From its early days in the 1850s, when a single building housed science laboratories and collections, the Smithsonian Institution has expanded to 19 museums, 9 research centers (some far from our nation's capital) and 158 Smithsonian Affiliate museums and educational organizations, located all over the country and beyond. The Smithsonian is the world's largest museum and research complex. So it is with profound humility and pride—and with much appreciation for Acting Secretary Samper's invaluable advice and assistance—that I take up my duties as the 12th Secretary.
Having served as the president of a research university—the Georgia Institute of Technology—I have a special appreciation for the Smithsonian's position as a revered cultural institution that faces challenges in a rapidly changing world. Questions abound: How should we address the huge costs of maintaining our buildings, several of which are national historic treasures? How do we keep the Smithsonian great? How can an organization with a reputation for authoritative scholarship best communicate to a generation that increasingly relies on blogs and questionable Web sites for information? How can we extend the excitement of the Smithsonian's scientific and other research work to a wider audience? I look forward to working with the Board of Regents, the National Board and other advisory boards, the staff and volunteers, our donors and all others involved with the Smithsonian to chart a course that builds on the Institution's great foundations and takes advantage of its opportunities. I hope to visit all of the Smithsonian's facilities in my first six months—to listen and to learn.
The future offers remarkable opportunities. As diverse as the Smithsonian Institution is, its components share unifying characteristics—education, scientific discovery and scholarship; documentation of our nation's history, arts and culture; commitment to excellence; and relevance to the issues of the day. A new strategic plan focusing on the future will build on deeply held commitments, values, themes and aspirations. The Smithsonian is especially well suited to integrate knowledge across disciplines in a world where the major issues are interdisciplinary. The explosive growth of new methods of communication will enable us to use our vast collections to more effectively educate new generations here and around the globe about our nation's unifying traditions and heritage. Those collections articulate the many stories of the American people and speak with unique power to the special vigor that diversity gives the United States.
We will call upon these strengths to create a new wave of support for the Smithsonian, which truly deserves our best efforts, to ensure that it continues to be exciting, educational and relevant as it helps to inform, even transform, our nation's future.
G. Wayne Clough is Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.