Oprah Winfrey donates $12 million to Smithsonian African American musem

Photo: Associated Press

The Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture is getting a massive financial boost from one of America's most prominent icons.

Oprah Winfrey is donating $12 million toward the $500-million project, museum officials announced Tuesday, in what they say is the largest donation to date.

The museum, which is currently under construction at the corner of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, will put Winfrey's name on the facility's theater in honor of her generosity.

"Her gifts will forever be associated with harnessing the power of art and creative expression to build bridges between cultures and enrich people's lives," museum founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III said in a statement.

Half of the $500 million it will take to build the new museum came from congressional funding. The other half is being funded by donations.

Winfrey's $12 million gift comes in addition to the $1 million she gave to the museum in 2007.

"By investing in this museum, I want to help ensure that we both honor and preserve our culture and history, so that the stories of who we are will live on for generations to come," Winfrey said in a statement.

She has been a member of the museum's founding advisory council since 2004.

Since ground broke 16 months ago, crews have dug 70 feet into the ground, excavating enough material to fill 32,000 dump trucks.

“What we’ve really struggled with is just the realities of the site,” says Lonnie G. Bunch, the museum founder. “The fact that this is where the Potomac ended in the 1800’s which means water is crucial.”

The 100-man workforce today will grow to 1,000 in a year. The museum is slated to open in 2015.