700 Block of Independence Ave SW, February 1
700 Block of Independence Ave SW, February 1

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Ask spokespeople at any Smithsonian art museum whether they’re planning to temporarily close galleries due to sequestration, and chances are, they’ll say the same thing: “We don’t know.”

That’s all I heard when I called every press representative at every Smithsonian art museum in D.C. this afternoon. No one knows specifics yet—-but they’re preparing for looming cuts. At a congressional hearing Tuesday, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough testified that beginning May 1, sequestration will force the institution to cut back on security in museums, which will cause some exhibits to temporarily close through the end of September. “We cannot keep every gallery or exhibition in every museum open daily without sufficient security,” Clough said. “Therefore, when visitors come to an art museum, they may find a sign saying that the third floor galleries are closed to the public that day, for example.” He said the Smithsonian also expects to postpone or cancel future exhibitions, including, potentially, “an initiative exploring the origins of democracy at the National Museum of American History.”

More specifics are hard to come by. In an email, Smithsonian Spokesperson Linda St. Thomas writes, “We do not know specifically which exhibition in an art museum will close on a given day. It will be temporary and day to day.”

Marcia Baird Burris at the Anacostia Community Museum says she hopes the building isn’t forced to close anything—-because shuttering one part of the small museum effectively shuts down the whole operation. National Museum of the American Indian Director Kevin Gover is meeting with the Smithsonian’s Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations tomorrow to see if it can somehow avoid closing exhibitions. For the most part, visitors to the National Mall don’t have to worry: Hours at big tourist museums like the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History aren’t on the chopping block—-yet.

“Day-to-day operations at the Smithsonian have not changed dramatically yet,” Clough continued in his testimony. “And it is my hope that our spring visitors will not notice the impact of the sequestration. But when we implement rolling museum gallery closures, the visiting public will be increasingly affected over time.”

Correction: The original headline on this post inaccurately said that Smithsonian museums may be forced to close due to sequestration. Galleries within museums—-not entire museums—-are expected to close.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery