Smithsonian Institution Receives $50 Million to Support Three New Initiatives

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grants Will Expand Educational Access and Broaden Museum Representation
November 10, 2010
News Release
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The Smithsonian Institution has received $50 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support three new programs: $30 million for broadening access to the Institution through a Youth Access Endowment, $10 million for the four consortia identified in the Smithsonian’s Strategic Plan and $10 million in fall 2009 for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The $30 million endowment gift will support programs for children in grades K-12 now and in the future. The youth access initiative will enable Smithsonian museums and research centers to use their vast resources and expertise to reach underserved students in school districts around the country.

The Smithsonian will build on existing programs that use interactive websites, online conferences, distance learning and games to reach new audiences in innovative ways. Last year, interactive online conferences on Abraham Lincoln and climate change each drew more than 7,000 participants, and thousands of people return to the sites to review the archived sessions.

“We’re very grateful to the Gates Foundation for this transforming gift,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough. “It vastly expands our ability to make our collections, research and experts accessible in new ways to young people in schools around the country.”

“The Smithsonian Institution is a national treasure, and it is critical that we continue to support its place in American culture and world history,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We have great faith in the Smithsonian leadership to carry the Institution into its next era—making its resources available to more people across the country, especially the nation’s youth, through technology innovations and creative partnerships.”

“We have a long history of providing quality visitor experiences at Smithsonian museums, but for many people a visit to the Smithsonian is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Claudine Brown, the Smithsonian’s Assistant Secretary for Education and Access. “And there are many families and students who may never visit. Our new youth access initiative gives us with the opportunity to develop a variety of methods for taking the Smithsonian to learners, wherever they are and whatever their ages.”

The Youth Access Endowment will offer development and implementation grants each year, on a competitive basis, to Smithsonian educators and researchers to support new ideas or expand ongoing projects that have proven successful.

“We believe that this initiative will foster creativity and innovation while allowing the Smithsonian to serve those communities that need us most,” Brown added.

Consortia and NMAAHC Funding

The $10 million grant for the consortia supports the four grand challenges or themes of the Strategic Plan and enables the Institution to organize itself in a way that will achieve significant results in each area. Each consortium draws from various fields to advance research and provide core content for exhibitions, public programs and curricula. The consortia plan also provides competitive grants to Smithsonian staff who submit creative interdisciplinary ideas that need seed money or ongoing financial support.

The four consortia directors (all currently staff members) were named this summer: Understanding the American Experience—Michelle Delaney from the National Museum of American History; Valuing World Cultures—Robert Leopold from the National Anthropological Archives; Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet—John Kress from the National Museum of Natural History; and Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe—Christine Forman from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

The Gates Foundation’s contribution of $10 million to NMAAHC in October 2009 supports the design and construction of the museum.

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