- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2003

Like many local arts institutions, the Phillips Collection is eagerly courting financial support for operations, acquisitions and a multimillion-dollar capital campaign. Unlike most local arts institutions, Phillips has figured out how to turn its somewhat staid donor-appreciation night into a not-to-be-missed affair.

“It’s much more glamorous this year,” Aniko Gaal Schott said Wednesday night in appreciation of the museum’s 20th annual dinner honoring corporate and foundation benefactors. While warm, breezy weather, attractive and fashionably dressed younger guests, and wonderful views of the monuments from the Federal Reserve Board’s top-floor roof terrace enhanced the scene, so did the decision to invite top foreign diplomats.

Corporate types, Mrs. Schott noted wryly, are always interested in expanding their high-level contacts around the world.

If chin-wagging possibilities with the ambassadors of France, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Egypt, Colombia, Lichtenstein and Jordan didn’t provide sufficient reason to attend, there was an impressive assortment of domestic heavyweights to chat up, as well: Rhode Island Sens. Lincoln Chafee and Jack Reed, Rep. Jim Leach, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, National Endowment for the Humanities chief Bruce Cole, ABC News’ “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos, Kennedy Center trustee Ann Jordan, artist William Christenberry and Alma Powell, wife of the secretary of state.

Arts-oriented businessmen Jonathan Ledecky, Huda Farouki, Bob Rosenthal, Nigel Morris, William Torgerson and Morton Bender also were sighted, along with the Phillips’ newly installed chairman, George Vradenburg III, who can be credited for persuading James V. Kimsey, a colleague from his America Online days, to come aboard as dinner chairman.

Mr. Kimsey, who also helped welcome guests at the Washington Opera Ball on June 6 (after giving the company a second $1 million), seemed to be holding up despite the strain of heavy-duty meeting-and-greeting.

There was no quarter from his glamorous blonde date, however, when the philanthropist was heard to grumble, “I’m spending all my time in receiving lines.”

“He’s just a boy who can’t say no,” writer and corporate executive Jennifer Grossman said with a laugh.

Networking during cocktails continued well past the usual 45-minutes-to-an-hour limit, causing many tarrying guests to miss close-up views of modern masterpieces by Edward Hopper, Arthur Dove, Walt Kuhn and Marsden Hartley (which the museum trucked over and installed in the Fed’s dining room for the occasion).

The nonpareil decor afforded “a rare opportunity to dine with American artists in whom [museum founder] Duncan Phillips had great faith,” Phillips Collection Director Jay Gates told guests before gourmet fare (Maine lobster roll, rack and loin of veal, baby romaine salad and strawberry sorbet shortcake) was served.

Also noted with pleasure: Mr. Gates’ remarks, like those of the other speakers, were sparse; there was no drawn-out awards ceremony to suffer through. Even the post-9:30 p.m. poetry reading — the mere concept causes black-tie dinner-goers’ blood to freeze — was a short and sweet romp effected with strolling aplomb by Mr. Stephanopoulos’ wife, actress and writer Alexandra Wentworth.

“It’s a night for thank you’s, not a sales pitch,” said Mr. Vradenburg, pointing out that the low-key, intimate nature of the event was entirely by design and in keeping with “small and beautiful” character of the museum itself.

Small and beautiful, but expensive, as well — especially now that the Phillips is moving forward with plans for a $27 million expansion of gallery space for its 2,400 works and the establishment of a Center for Studies in Modern Art.

“The good news is that we’re halfway there,” said former chairwoman Vicki Sant, reporting that the $3 million challenge grant she and her husband, businessman Roger Sant, presented to fellow trustees for a Fulfilling the Vision campaign had been successfully met.

Securing the remainder (to say nothing of an additional $20 million for an endowment) will prove to be a major accomplishment, considering that there are an estimated 30 local arts organizations with competing capital campaigns in the area. Many have far more ambitious goals, including: the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s new Frank Gehry wing ($150 million), the Kennedy Center’s expansion ($250 million from private sources) and the Newseum’s relocation to downtown Washington ($400 million).

The Phillips took in a record $8.3 million from corporate and foundation sources in the past year (including the Sant gift), and trustees are optimistic that the trend will continue despite prevailing uncertainty about the economy.

While the care and feeding of donors at exclusive events will certainly continue, trustees have come to believe that the allure of the collection and its setting is a far more important enticement as far as financial support is concerned (especially since major contributors have the right to hold on-site private events).

“The Phillips is a jewel,” Mrs. Sant said. “It is finally gaining the recognition and appreciation it has always deserved.”

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