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Museum of Art launches campaign

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Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — On March 1, 2008, with the sun setting in the west, a group of donors to the North Carolina Museum of Art huddled on a concrete slab beneath steel beams and surrounded by mud as officials shared their vision of the way the new building taking shape on the site would transform visitors’ experience of the museum’s art collection.

Today, donors and prospective donors no longer have to imagine the new museum-going experience: As it embarks on the public phase of a campaign to raise $50 million for endowment, programs, grounds and operations, the museum is counting on its new $67 million publicly-funded building, its art bathed in light diffused by a high-tech filtering system, to paint its own fundraising case.

That case is “about the experiences people have with the art,” says Kathryn Yandell, the museum’s campaign director and major gifts officer.

Chaired by Ken O’Herron, president of O’Herron & Co., the private fundraising effort already has raised nearly $27 million in its quiet phase.

The quiet phase generated 10 gifts of $1 million or more, including a $2.5 million gift from the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation to support statewide educational initiatives and on-site educational programming.

One program supported by the gift, the largest corporate grant in the museum’s history, is known as Art of Collaboration, a partnership with public schools in 12 counties that uses art to teach a broad range of subjects and has reached 2,000 middle-school students, mainly in underserved counties.

Making art accessible to North Carolinians through private donations has been integral to the museum since the initial efforts in the 1920s to create a state art collection.

Formed in 1924 by 12 members of the State Literary and Historical Association, the North Carolina Art Society endorsed the creation of an art collection and museum for the people of North Carolina.

Efforts to realize that dream, slowed by the Depression of the 1930s and World War II, took a big step in 1947, when Samuel H. Kress, founder and head of the S.H. Kress & Co. department-store chain, promised to donate $1 million to help the state establish an art museum on the condition that he would remain anonymous and other sources would match the gift.

That promise prompted state lawmakers to appropriate $1 million, marking the start of the museum’s tradition of securing private support matched with public dollars.

After the death of Samuel Kress, whose promise had been verbal, the Kress Foundation gave the museum 69 paintings and two sculptures, representing the largest Kress gift in the U.S. after that given to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and “set the foundation for this museum to be a major art museum of significant stature, which is has achieved,” Yandell says.

Now, with state lawmakers, Wake County and the city of Raleigh giving $67 million for its new gallery building and another $6 million to repair and renovate its existing building, the museum is reaching out to prospective donors for the private campaign.

“The transformation of North Carolina’s art museum has attracted new donors from across the state.” Yandell says. “The building just sells itself.”

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