The Vaticanlike enclave of federal Washington has long excluded Washington the city from its machinations on and around the National Mall. But with the opening of the City Museum of Washington, D.C., next spring, the District will get a chance to try its hand at one of the Mall’s most successful endeavors: the museum business. The nonprofit Historical Society of Washington, D.C., which is creating and will oversee the new 60,000-square-foot venue in the old Carnegie Library building, says that it will seek to tell the story of Washington beyond the monuments.
The Historical Society has cited a “conservatively projected” yearly attendance of 300,000 visitors, drawn from both locals and tourists. But keeping a classical-columned cultural edifice going is no easy task these days. Even the venerable Smithsonian Institution has compromised scholarship in the name of dollar-grabbing, with Secretary Lawrence Small apparently willing to give anyone with a big enough checkbook his or her name on a building or the chance to play curator for a day. Real estate tycoon Kenneth E. Behring, who recently donated a total of $100 million to the institution, has his name on both the National Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Mammals and the Museum of American History as a whole—which is now known officially as the “National Museum of American History, Behring Center.” And philanthropist Catherine B. Reynolds was ready to pony up $38 million for a proposed “Spirit of America” hall of fame honoring such middlebrow icons as Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey—until Smithsonian curators objected to statements that she wanted her foundation to have “a hands-on role” in designing the display.
So far, the City Museum has avoided any overt donor influence in its slate of planned exhibitions. But why should we hold our local-history museum to higher standards than our national-history ones? After all, it took $10 million in loans from three local banks to revive the City Museum project after Sept. 11 kiboshed its original groundbreaking ceremony and fundraising was put on hold. If the Smithsonian is any indication, it’s just a matter of time until the ties that bind the City Museum’s money could manifest themselves on the museum’s walls. Until then, the Washington City Paper has provided a handy guide to some of those who gave, along with a few exhibitions we just might see in our hometown-history venue.CP
How Donor Future Sponsorship
DonorDonationMade Its DoughPossibilities
Pepco $100,000Electricity and natural gas”When Manholes Attack!”
The Hechinger$250,820Big-box hardware stores”Is That 16 Inches?:
The Kiplinger$1 millionFinancial publishing”Distressed High-Yield Defaulted
familyTax-Free Municipal Bonds…for Kids!”
The Washington$2 millionTaxes on hotel rooms,”From Tote Bags to Lanyards:
Convention restaurant food, 25 Years of Goodie Bags”
Center Authorityand booze
U.S. Congress$2 millionIncome taxes”The Drawbacks of Local-Level
Riggs Bank$4 million Loaning it”Building a Better Tomorrow Through
construction Monthly Maintenance Fees”
loan (small surcharge for SunTrust customers)