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Looking Back and Ahead

With regret but a legacy of accomplishment, the Secretary plans to leave the Smithsonian in December

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I informed the Regents of the Smithsonian last May that I was contemplating retirement at the end of five years, the term I originally agreed to serve. They graciously asked me to continue serving beyond that time. After considerable thought, however, I have now informed the Regents that I will step down as Secretary at the end of 1999. I do this with regret, of course, but also with pleasant anticipation. I regret departing from both the Institution, which is so important in our national life, and from those who are responsible for what it does. But I look forward to returning home to California in my 70th year and reestablishing my ties with the University of California and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Regents appointed me in 1994 to address then present problems and to devise and implement new initiatives. We have progressed in simplifying the management structure, redetermining the relationships between the Secretary's Office and the museums and research institutes, establishing accountability for decisions made within the Institution, and maintaining productive relations with Congress and the executive offices. And we have maintained excellent programs. Research is prospering, with our centers receiving high grades in peer review. Museum exhibitions continue to do well, with increasing visitorship, but we must raise additional resources to ensure progress.

Moreover, we have strengthened our commitment to deliver Smithsonian resources and expertise to Americans wherever they live. The 150th anniversary exhibition, America's Smithsonian, brought more than 300 of our treasures, as well as curators and scientists, to three million-plus visitors in communities across the nation. The promise of electronic access to exhibitions and collections has been fulfilled through the creation of a popular Website, a digitization program and a commitment to new technologies. And we are developing partnerships with museums all over America to share our collections through long-term loans. An example of this is the proposed museum of industrial history in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The Smithsonian has also become more inclusive by extending its reach and resources to encompass the experiences of Latinos and Asian-Americans in our society. Our objective is to reflect every strand of the nation. Finally, we are endeavoring to raise considerably more resources from the private sector. We will formally announce our national fundraising campaign soon. Preparatory activities have already stimulated enhanced giving. We still have problems that we have not solved. The two most prominent ones involve physical plant and business activities. We need more space as well as a much increased federal budget for repair and renovation of existing buildings. And we must implement plans to make our Institution-related business activities more productive in order to help provide special exhibition support and stipends for our interns and research assistants.

I intend to have an active final year at the Smithsonian. There are four chief matters on my agenda. First, I want to participate in the groundbreaking on the Mall for the National Museum of the American Indian. Secondly, I expect to see the fundraising campaign well-defined. Thirdly, I want to acquire an additional facility for the National Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery and the Archives of American Art. Fourthly, I intend to establish an organization at the Smithsonian to carry on business activities, appoint its board of directors and, at their recommendation, the chief operating officer.

Every Secretary leaves much undone. I am no exception. In addition to stewardship and enhancing the Institution's resources, there is a larger issue that needs attention. An inherent advantage of the Smithsonian is that it includes history, science and art in an assemblage of museums, research facilities and programs. But we do not take sufficient advantage of this proximate diversity. Rarely do we sponsor joint exhibitions among our museums or consider whether related collections should be combined or what insights might be gained by looking at a similar subject, such as flight, from across the disciplinary boundaries of the National Zoological Park, the National Air and Space Museum and the cultural museums. What a splendid millennium exhibition we might have produced if we had the means and the will to stimulate joint activity.

I have tried to use my years as Secretary to promote a greater sense of the combined strength of the Smithsonian as a positive force in the nation. As a private citizen, I hope to join fellow citizens in the active support of the Institution's fundraising and would willingly serve in any capacity my successor might ask of me. I leave the Smithsonian in a formal sense. It will always be a part of me.

By I. Michael Heyman, Secretary

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