Brent-BenjaminCollege development officers and museum executives alike know the fundraising challenges that face even the most successful institutions, so what awaited Brent Benjamin (MA ’86) at a recent meeting must have been a very pleasant surprise:

Barbara Taylor was at one of her last meetings as president of the art museum Board of Commissioners, the government body that runs the museum, when she stepped up to the podium and announced the [$21 million] donation, with little fanfare.

“In hindsight, I can tell you it was planned by Barbara,” Benjamin said. “But it was a shock and surprise to everyone in the room. It was a pretty exciting moment.

“I was speechless.”

Benjamin is the Director of the St. Louis Art Museum. More properly, because the gift is intended to fund his directorship, he is now, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the museum. Taylor is an important St. Louis area philanthropist. Her husband is the executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

The gift appears to be more than sufficient to cover Benjamin’s current $640,000 in total compensation, and will allow the museum greater flexibility in hiring Benjamin’s successor in the future. For now,

[t]he museum will annually take a percentage, depending on market earnings, to pay for the director’s salary and benefits. This year, the museum plans to harvest 4.5 percent, or about $945,000. The excess will go toward museum operations.

Benjamin said the news came so late in the year that the museum couldn’t budget for the money. But he imagines the dollars once spent on his position can now be “redeployed for other purposes.” He figured the total saving at about $1 million a year, making some things possible, he said, that would not have been possible before.

For instance, the museum would like a larger “virtual presence” online, he said. “And that comes at a price.”

Benjamin has been at the museum since 1999, and has had an impressive tenure, presiding over a large expansion that opened earlier this decade, and securing a number of terrific acquisitions and gifts, including the 2014 bequest of a $50M, 225-piece collection from the estate of the longtime publisher of The Sporting News. Benjamin has made the museum — along with Frank Uible III ’85’s ventures — must-dos for visitors to the Gateway to the West.

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