- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP)

Fundraising and attendance are up at the Smithsonian Institution’s museums as its fiscal year comes to a close, Acting Secretary Cristian Samper said.

The Smithsonian received about $140 million in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 — about $25 million more than its goal of $115 million, Mr. Samper said Monday. At the same time, attendance increased about 9 percent.

The gifts included a $10 million donation to the National Air and Space Museum for its education programs. Mr. Samper did not specify any of the institution’s major donors.

He said the institution’s financial outlook was welcome news after a year when the Smithsonian saw the embarrassing resignation of former Secretary Lawrence Small in March over questionable spending and excessive compensation.

“We were wondering if there would be any slip in our fundraising in light of recent events,” Mr. Samper said. The increase “means we did very well,” he added.

Also, the majority of funds for the ongoing overhaul of the National Museum of American History has been secured, Mr. Samper said. The renovation involves the creation of a new skylight and atrium at the museum’s core, with reorganized galleries around a new centerpiece exhibit of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“All the key engineering is done” at the history museum, he said. Asked whether it would reopen on time in July, Mr. Samper knocked on a wooden table. “So far, so good,” he said.

Also Monday, members of the Smithsonian’s governing board were expected to hold a public meeting to hear from anyone about the skills and qualities they should seek in hiring the Smithsonian’s 12th secretary.

It’s a change for the Smithsonian to open a board meeting to the public. The board typically conducts business behind closed doors, a practice that has drawn criticism and questions about the governance of the world’s largest museum and research complex.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said the board expects to start holding at least one open meeting each year to hear from the public.

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