Gates Center Puts Focus on Philanthropy

Article excerpt

Byline: Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

SEATTLE -- People are already joking it's a good thing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation isn't charging admission for its new visitor center, which showcases Bill Gates' multibillion-dollar philanthropy, not his computers.

But most people don't know what to expect from the glass-clad public space in front of the new headquarters of the world's largest charitable foundation.

Those who decide to peek in the windows or stop inside will find thought-provoking and even fun exhibits that encourage visitors to focus on how they can make the world a better place.

The center is just steps from the Space Needle and Experience Music Project, two of the city's biggest tourist attractions. While it's not exactly a "museum of philanthropy," it's also not just a public promotion of the Gates Foundation's work.

"We know that there's interest and passion for our work. We haven't had a way to invite the public in to learn about our history, what we do and how we partner with others, and to think about what they can do," said Martha Choe, chief administrative officer of the foundation.

The Gates Foundation is one of a handful of large charitable foundations with buildings open to the public. Foundation staff visited a number of others for ideas, including the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the Mercy Corps Action Center to End World Hunger in New York City and the CDC Global Health Odyssey Museum in Atlanta.

But the creators of the Gates project also seemed to take inspiration from modern children's museums and science centers.

Bill and Melinda Gates put their own money into building the new headquarters campus, including the 10,000-square-foot visitor center.

The Gates Foundation's $33.5 billion endowment comes mostly from Bill and Melinda Gates, but also includes about $8 billion donated by billionaire Warren Buffett. A few years ago, the foundation also started accepting donations from the general public, but says it would prefer people make donations directly to the charities they support. …