- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

Members of the Smithsonian Institution’s James Smithson Society (named in honor of the institution’s founding benefactor) are hailed as “visionaries” in the group’s solicitation literature.

But the vision of this philanthropic in-crowd’s upper tier, who number 439 — just under half of them from the Washington area — has to include a passion for fundraising as well as knowledge.

They also need strong constitutions. This year’s social, educational and morale-raising gathering, billed as a “gala weekend,” included two breakfasts, two lunches, three receptions, two dinners, four special tours and a White House gathering hosted by first lady Laura Bush, all from Wednesday to yesterday morning.

“There is a lot of talk about money,” agreed a reflective Jill Sackler before Saturday’s black-tie dinner in the National Museum of the American Indian. The government can only do so much, and at least its contribution [for Smithsonian upkeep] wasn’t any less this time around, she noted. Mrs. Sackler, whose late husband endowed the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery, was a member of the planning committee headed by Mary Ourisman.

“We know there is [only] a limited amount of government support,” said Edgar Masinter of New York, who, like several dozen attendees, is both an upper-level Smithson Society member and a member of the self-sustaining ex-officio Smithsonian National Board, chaired by Patricia Frost of Miami Beach, Fla. (Mrs. Frost and her husband donated their abstract-art collection to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum.)

Society members, who fall into four donor categories, heard themselves praised almost as often as the glories of the institution were trumpeted by speakers ranging from Hirshhorn Museum Director Ned Rifkin to Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small and American Indian museum Director Richard West.

“We’re cheerleaders,” said enthusiastic Smithson Society and Board member Charles Moore of the District.

The dapper, white-suited Henri Zimand of Monaco, an international financier who described himself as a worldwide arts, music and sports promoter, chose to pass up the funeral of Prince Rainier to attend the gathering. “The Smithsonian is representing history,” he said. “I’ve gained something by being here, too.”

— Ann Geracimos

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