Design Museums and Firearms: It’s Time We Had “The Talk”

Barbara Eldredge from D-Crit on Vimeo.

Come to Eventually Everything: The 2012 D-Crit Conference on Wednesday, May 2nd and watch me talk about guns, design museums, and morality.


Smithsonian’s Video Game Exhibition


Folk Art Museum to Fold?

Even after selling its beautiful Williams-Tsien building to MoMA for $31.2 million, the American Folk Art Museum is still in financial peril. Trustees are considering whether the organization can reasonably pay its staff and cover the cost of housing, conserving, and insuring one of the world’s finest collections of American Folk Art. According to the NYT, one option is to give the collection over the The Smithsonian and Brooklyn Museum, an act that would require approval of the State attorney General and Board of Education. AFAM representatives have been in communications with The Smithsonian for several months.

From the NYT:

The folk art museum’s situation is a stark warning of what can happen when a museum overreaches in constructing a new home. Founded in 1961, the museum survived some early near-death experiences. When it decided to build a permanent home, it engaged high-profile architects and borrowed the $32 million by issuing bonds through New York City’s Trust for Cultural Resources, a public benefit corporation that helps major cultural institutions borrow money for capital projects.

Some critics have attributed the museum’s troubles to its architecture, saying that it was unwelcoming and did not display the art and artifacts attractively. To be sure, the museum never drew the crowds it had projected in estimates made during the planning process, or received enough contributions to support its interest payments. It was the first institution that borrowed through the trust to default on its debt.

Seriously. It wasn’t the architecture. It was the cost.

Addendum: ARTINFO just published a piece on this very issue! Check out Can the Folk Art Museum Be Saved? A Look at Three Endgame Scenarios.

Smithsonian Gets Flack Over Commercially Mined Shipwreck Artifacts

Ok, so we’ve all had the fantasy of recovering rare and historical artifacts in a rogueish and debonair manner a la Indiana Jones or that character Nicholas Cage played in American Treasure (just go with me on this). But it turns out that such thrilling non-academic excavation is considered a HUGE breech of ethics in the archeological/museum community.

Case in point: Singapore’s traveling exhibition Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds is a historically and culturally significant collection of objects commercially salvaged from an Arab ship that sank in 800 AD. Filled with Tang Dynasty vessels, the ship’s contents indicate a previously unknown sea trade between China and the Arab world. But many do not want the Smithsonian to bring this exhibition to the states, as it had planned to do in the spring of 2012.

From The New York Times:

n an April 5 letter to the top official at the Smithsonian, G. Wayne Clough, a group of archaeologists and anthropologists from the National Academy of Sciences — including Robert McCormick Adams, a former leader of the Smithsonian — wrote that proceeding with the exhibition would “severely damage the stature and reputation” of the institution.

The members of the National Academy of Sciences are not alone. In recent weeks organizations including the Society for American Archaeology, the Council of American Maritime Museums and the International Committee for Underwater Cultural Heritage, as well as groups within the Smithsonian, including the members of the anthropology department and the Senate of Scientists at its National Museum of Natural History, have urged Mr. Clough to reconsider.

… in the eyes of archaeologists like James P. Delgado, the director of maritime heritage at the United States Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, allowing any of the finds from an excavation to be sold betrays the most basic aspects of research, in which “sometimes it’s the smallest things that we come back to that make the great leaps forward.”

Mr. Delgado said he wished the Belitung shipwreck had been academically excavated. But unlike some of his colleagues, he said that instead of canceling the exhibition, the Smithsonian could use it to educate the public about the consequences of the commercialization of underwater heritage.

Who Got the Space Shuttles?!

Enterprise Shuttle on display at the Smithsonian

Here’s the rundown:

Discovery, NASA’s oldest remaining orbiter and the world’s most flown spacecraft, is going to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. No surprise there.

Endeavour will be given to the California Science Center after a final launch later this month.

Atlantis will remain in Florida, at the Kennedy Space Center.

But just wait! There’s a bonus! The Smithsonian will be using the Discovery to replace a shuttle prototype already in its possession, the Enterprise. And guess who gets the Enterprise!? New York’s very own Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum!