Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Gives Major Gift to National Museum of African American History and Culture

October 15, 2009
News Release

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed $10 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, expected to open in late 2015 on the National Mall in Washington. The purpose of the grant is to support the capital campaign of the new museum, which is raising funds for the design and construction of its building.

The building, to be built on a five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument, will be designed by Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup. The design, construction and exhibition installations are expected to cost about $500 million, half provided by congressional funding and the remainder raised by the museum.

“We are so pleased that the Gates Foundation has joined donors from across the country who have built a groundswell of support for this museum,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the museum. “We recognize this as a vote of confidence and a genuine honor.”

“The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a remarkable resource that will ensure that the rich stories and valuable history of African Americans will be available for all,” said Allan Golston, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s United States Program. “The museum will be an important addition to our National Mall, and we are pleased to be joining others at this unique moment in time to support this worthy investment.”

The design and engineering team consists of four firms coming together for one of the largest architectural projects in Washington; the firms are the Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond and SmithGroup. The lead designer is David Adjaye; Philip G. Freelon, FAIA, will serve as design guarantor, making sure the design reflects the values and priorities of the museum and the Smithsonian. Groundbreaking for the 300,000-square-foot building is expected be in 2012.       

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established by an Act of Congress in 2003 as the 19th museum of the Smithsonian. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. As part of its capital campaign, it has launched a national membership campaign. It is establishing a national identity by hosting exhibitions and educational programming in major cities across the country.

The museum’s historians and curators are building a collection—now with more than 9,000 objects—designed to illustrate the major periods of African American history, beginning with its origins in Africa and continuing through slavery, reconstruction, the civil rights era and into the 21st century. Its inaugural exhibition, “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits,” is on a 12-city national tour through 2012. Until its building is completed, the museum is offering exhibitions in its own gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. For more information visit the museum’s Web site at

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