Wednesday, October 27, 2010

California Fundraiser for the National Museum of African Art

National Museum of African Art (exterior)
Image courtesy of LA Times
Last Saturday the National Museum of African Art held a fundraiser in Santa Monica, California. The event took place at M. Hanks Gallery

The fundraising soiree was organized by the Sanaa Circle, a recently formed support group comprised primary of African-American lawyers, according to museum spokesman Eddie Burke. Their goal is to raise money and awareness for the museum. Hosts for the event included Camille Cosby (a National Museum of African Art board member and spouse of Bill Cosby) and her brother, Eric Hanks (owner of M. Hanks Gallery, a venue for African American art). Tickets to the cocktail reception were $250 per person.

Museum director Johnnetta Betsch Cole was the evening's keynote speaker. Cole became director last year after a storied career as president of two historically black women's colleges, Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C., and Spelman College in Atlanta. 

The question of why a major museum dedicated to the art of Africa and located in Washington, D.C. needs to solicit funds from California raises concerns for many. Spokesman Burke says the party was not just for funds but to raise nationwide awareness. 

The African art museum is competing with the National Postal Museum to avoid last place in attendance among the Smithsonian's museums on the National Mall. In 2009 it drew 403,000 visitors and the postal museum had 349,000; this year, through September 30, the African art museum had tallied 229,000 visitors and the postal museum 259,000. Last year, according to Smithsonian budget documents, the African art museum had a budget of about $6 million, with $905,000 of that raised from donors. 

Two major Los Angeles museums collect and display African art -- the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Fowler Museum at UCLA. However, officials at those museums do not feel encroached upon by African art museum events in the area. They understand that the African art museum is the "national" museum and must solicit support from all over the United States. "No feathers ruffled," says Melody Kanschat, LACMA's president. "We all understand that museums compete for the attention of potential donors and collectors who might be persuaded to make gifts of works of art, and it's all to the greater good."

And the task before the National Museum of African Art is a great one. According to the Smithsonian's website and its strategic plan for 2010 to 2015, the $761.4 million it currently receives from the federal government covers about 70% of an annual budget of more than $1 billion. To meet its goals through 2015, it projects needing to rake in as much as a third more money than it does now. Less than half of the additional funding is expected to come from the federal government. 

Source: Mike Goehm for the Los Angeles Times (October 15, 2010)

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