Shrinking The Smithsonian's Grand Purpose

Lawrence Small may be perfectly named for the job he's doing.

He's now the head of the venerable Smithsonian Institution, our nation's ultimate public museum and science center. The Smithsonian was established by congress in 1846 for "the increase and diffusion of knowledge" among the public. But Small doesn't seem to be able to measure up to this job. Instead of serving the public interest, this former investment banker is intent on turning the Smithsonian into a shameless shill for corporate products and propaganda by selling pieces of the institution to the Fortune 500.

For $7.8 million, Small changed the name of the panda area at the National Zoo to "Fujifilm Giant Panda Conservation Habitat." For $10 million, Small renamed a theater at the National Air & Space Museum to the "Lockheed Martin Imax Theater." For another $10 million, Small created a new exhibit hall called the "General Motors Hall of Transportation."

"They are selling the good name of the Smithsonian," says Bernard Finn, a curator at the history museum. "We are trying to present history in an unbiased, professional way using the best scholarship, but the public will get the impression the Smithsonian is for sale." Likewise,170 scholars wrote a letter to the Smithsonian's board of regents saying that Small is "degrading this great cultural institution into a corporate pitchman."

Indeed he is. In March, visitors to the Smithsonian's natural history museum were handed a four page, glossy guide. It was paid for by Phillips Petroleum and, on the back page, there was a full-color ad promoting oil drilling in Alaska. Small whines that he needs more money than congress now appropriates and has no choice but to sell-off chunks of the place for the propagandistic purposes of corporations.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... If Small doesn't have the skill, savvy, and stature to beef up public funding for this unique public treasure, then he's too small for the job ... and he should resign.


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