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Billionaire donates US$5 mil. to Kennedy Center

WASHINGTON -- Billionaire Russian investor Vladimir Potanin announced a US$5 million gift Thursday to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to mark its 40th anniversary and support its programs.

The gift, a first from Russia to the Washington-based center, includes additional funding from Potanin's foundation to renovate an Opera House lounge at the center. It will be renamed the Russian Lounge and redecorated to feature Russian culture when it reopens in late 2012.

Potanin, 50, is a founder of Interros Company and the biggest shareholder in the world's largest nickel producer, Norilsk Nickel. For years, he has been locked in a dispute with rival Oleg Deripaska over control of the mining giant.

Engaging with the Kennedy Center is a “natural expansion” of his foundation's philanthropic activities in Russia, Potanin said in a written statement ahead of the gift announcement.

“I believe the Kennedy Center has been playing a very important role in building strong cultural relations between our countries by presenting the greatest Russian artists to the American people,” he said.

Over the years, Russia's Mariinsky Ballet, Opera and Orchestra have performed in Washington, as well as the Bolshoi Ballet.

Cultural ties date back to the Soviet Union era. For 17 years, Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich served as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra at the center while in exile from the Soviet Union. He was celebrated in 1990 upon returning to Russia for the first time to conduct. He died in 2007.

Artistic programs from Potanin's foundation will guide the design of the new lounge to showcase Russian arts and culture. The center said it may include museum collections from the foundation's archives and a multimedia zone to highlight Russian culture.

A Waterford crystal chandelier that was a gift from Ireland when the center opened in 1971 will remain in the lounge. New Russian artwork and furnishings also will fill the room. It will be designed by Russian designer Yuri Avvakumov with architectural support from Baltimore-based Richter Cornbrooks Gribble, Inc.

The Kennedy Center is a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The planned national cultural center was named in his honor, following his death.

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