Smithsonian Debate

One of the more vivid childhood memories I have is of going to weekend classes at the Smithsonian.  One class was nature drawing (I’ll never forget the smell of the stuffed beaver they put in the middle of the table for us to draw) and another was black and white photography using a pinhole camera that I made myself in class (I’ll never forget the smells from the darkroom either).  That was right after my parents split up and we were pretty broke, so I’m not sure how my mom swung it but I’m glad she did.

Anyway I thought about those experiences when I was reading this NY Times article on a joint venture between the Smithsonian and Showtime that should mean some big dollars for the Smithsonian.  It is also raising the ire of many folks and it is worrying others who think that it will closet off some of the Smithsonian’s collection.

But as the Times article points out the Smithsonian is always struggling with cash issues, in no small part because access to all the Smithsonian museums is free.  To be honest I never knew that any museums charged admission until I was asked to pony up to get into MOMA in NY.  I was shocked and then very appreciative of what the Smithsonian is and does for free.

So my question is this: is the Smithsonian justified in entering joint ventures with commercial enterprises if it means that they can keep admission free?  It is quite possible that one issue has nothing to do with the other, I really don’t know, but if they are related and deals like this help keep admission free is it worth it?

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