Smithsonian: An assessment by the NYT





WELCOME to the Smithsonian — America’s museum!” Lawrence M. Small, the Smithsonian’s recently ousted top executive, wrote in a peppy preface to the latest edition of the institution’s official guidebook. “Our goal,” he declared, “is nothing less” than to “set the standard of museumgoing excellence for the world.”

Whatever his criteria for excellence, Mr. Small, whose title was secretary, hightailed it out of the Smithsonian this spring after being faulted for squandering its money on personal expenses and for moonlighting on corporate boards. On June 19 the Smithsonian Board of Regents (seconded two days later by a scathing report from an independent panel) rebuked itself for having given Mr. Small and his deputy the green light every step of the way.

Few people familiar with the Smithsonian in Washington and its various underperforming, weirdly performing and, in some cases, barely existent art and culture museums were much surprised by any of this. The institution has been deteriorating for a while, which has come to seem like part of its musty machinery. Besides, in the grand arena of national politics, why should anyone care about the sins and missteps of a museum complex?

[The article goes on to single out for criticism: National Museum of the American Indian (which it compares to a theme park), the National Museum of African Art ("stale"), and National Museum of African-American History and Culture ("That its first exhibition should be a boilerplate affair, neither increasing nor diffusing knowledge, is baffling.")


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