Looking to the Future
Five years of heading the Smithsonian continues a proud legacy, but much remains to be done
When I became Secretary of the Smithsonian in September 1994, I found a thriving institution that my predecessor, Robert McC. Adams, had presided over for ten years. He left me in charge of a remarkable place, broad and deep enough to fulfill the mission defined by its benefactor, James Smithson: "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Here, distinguished research is accomplished in the sciences and the humanities, and public education abounds through exhibitions, publications and programs. Each Secretary takes responsibility for millions of objects held in trust for the nation and for the myriad purposes for which our distinguished staff uses those items.
I inherited from Secretary Adams, as well, a number of initiatives that he had tendered and that would come to fruition on my watch. One of the greatest of these was planning for the National Museum of the American Indian. In my five years we have seen the opening of the George Gustav Heye Center for exhibitions in New York City, the start-up of the transfer of about a million objects to a beautifully designed resource center in Maryland, and the joyous groundbreaking for the Mall museum in September. Following up on Secretary Adams' passion for diversity at the Institution, I launched a process that led to the creation of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives and the new Asian Pacific American Studies Program.
Every Secretary works especially hard on Smithsonian needs that he has identified. I am no exception, and I leave to my successor, Larry Small, as Bob Adams left to me, several projects that require continued attention to succeed.
One is to increase resources so that the Smithsonian can continue in the forefront in exhibitions, research and education. Federal appropriations might be increased, but my sense is that fundraising through an Institution-wide campaign (which has already begun with substantial gifts) is a necessity. We have set forth important needs: construction of the National Museum of the American Indian, construction of the Dulles Center of the National Air and Space Museum, extensive renovation of space and exhibitions in both the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History, and the acquisition of a building to expand the activities of the National Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery and the Archives of American Art. In addition, we need to increase endowments for further enhancement of research and exhibition programs. Endowment income permits the Institution to support exhibitions for which outside sponsorship is unavailable, to fund new staff of exceptional quality, and to increase the number of interns and graduate fellows, who both learn and produce important research and analyses critical to collection maintenance and exhibition. So far, we have made good progress, but the task is less than midway toward completion. One source of additional program funding is income from Smithsonian Ventures — museum shops, catalogue sales, product development and licensing, media enterprises and undertakings we haven't even thought of yet. The reorganization of these activities is in progress. Success, however, requires additional effort.
Another new initiative is the endeavor to take the Smithsonian presence beyond Washington. Four major programs that we are pursuing involve affiliations with museums around the country, the realization of our plans to create a virtual museum on the Internet, increasing traveling exhibitions and building a more extensive presence in the world of K-12 education. All entail measured Institutional growth and related expenses. We have made important beginnings, but there is still much to do. Moreover, we must ensure the continued quality and enrichment of our core activities: museum exhibitions, and ongoing research in the sciences, humanities and social sciences that supports our exhibitions and educational programs and produces new basic knowledge.
Finally, we should not let our efforts lag in ensuring that the Smithsonian belongs to all Americans and includes many histories and cultures. We have made good beginnings but must continue our efforts throughout the Institution.
These are tall orders, but I am confident that our new Secretary, the 11th, will produce substantial gains for the Smithsonian in these activities and in others that he will launch and bequeath to the 12th Secretary. Ours is a great legacy. I am proud to have been entrusted with it for five extraordinary years.