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August 30, 2009


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Joseph Lott

The Fog has picked a thorny topic this time - the cherished Smithsonian. It is an interesting debate on whether pop culture objects fit the diffusion of knowledge goals set forth for the institution. However, I doubt that such objects really account for that much of the Instutition's holdings and are surely an insignificant cost overall. I've often heard that what is on display in the many museums is a small fraction (ie less than 10 percent) of the entire holdings of the museum. I am actually happy to think there are enough interesting things in the Smithsonian that children want to go to the Museum. People may not get that much knowledge from the childhood visit, but it sets them up to return when they are older and will benefit more . My recollection is that somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of the Smithsonian budget is federal funds and the rest comes from donations or Smithsonian generated ventures. My wife and I are Smithsonian associates and I think the Smithsonian magazine is one of the best around. I believe the real issue is how the Smithsonian funds the rennovation of some aging museums and upgrades security at all of them. These efforts will cost quite a bit and there is not enough funds to do them at this time. I hate to admit it, but the Smithsonian needs to consider instituting fees, selling off some of its vast holdings that are likely to never go on display, or starting some revenue generating ventures. The Smithsonian will need government funds for the forseeable future, but ought to be working harder to reduce that. Wouldn't it be great to see the split between public and private funding be 50/50.

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