It has been a busy year, beginning with a snow storm and ending with another cold spell. The contrast with the warmth I found at our holiday party on Tuesday was delightful. It was a great turnout and a wonderful chance for me to talk to many of you who make the Smithsonian great.
I want to take a moment to share my thoughts on the road we’ve travelled together as an Institution in 2010 and what I see as some of our challenges and opportunities in 2011. Properly done, we will make the most of our opportunities and turn our challenges into positives as well.
First, thanks to your enormous effort and commitment, in 2010 the Smithsonian continued its excellent service to our benefactors, the American people. Through existing and new exhibits, research, scholarship and growing outreach using online and social media technologies, the Smithsonian educated, engaged and inspired millions of our citizens and global visitors in 2010. Our number of visitors for this calendar year will likely exceed those of last year’s very strong total.
I could not review this year without commenting on the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” I supported the concept for this exhibition from the beginning. I believed then, and I believe now, that the exhibition helps explain the story behind these works of art and the artists who created them.
I am being criticized for removing one item from the exhibition of 105 works, but I stand by my decision. Whether we left the video in or removed it, we would face criticism. Some critics have cried “censorship.” I do not agree. I believed the protests over a small part of the exhibition would potentially drown out the voices of the many other artists in this carefully curated show. Others have criticized the placement of the entire exhibition in a publicly funded museum.
The Smithsonian, by its location and history, is a visible, iconic organization, and its actions create news. What has been obscured in the media buzz is the fact that NPG and the Smithsonian had the courage to mount the exhibit, making its important works available for free to all Americans and to people worldwide. I am certain that in the course of time, this view will prevail. I hope you have a chance to see the exhibition before its scheduled conclusion in February.
- We publicly launched our strategic plan. We are pleased by the response of our stakeholders, who are excited by the vision of our grand challenges. The plan also received encouraging backing from the Administration and Capitol Hill. There is universal appreciation for the idea that we are working through our exhibits, our science and our educational outreach efforts to reach people both in person and by using digital technology. These are good signs for future success.
- We made progress in assessing the processes and management activities that tend to slow us down and tie up resources for both units and central administration. Working together, we can learn how to facilitate the work of the creative people here at the Smithsonian.
- We defined the structure and ideas for a national fundraising campaign. The campaign is critical to ensuring a strong and vibrant future Smithsonian.
- We explored creative, entrepreneurial activities, resulting in Smithsonian Enterprises having a stellar business year. Artfully telling the wonderful stories behind the Smithsonian’s gem collection in partnership with QVC served our educational mission at the same time revenues were raised – quite a feat!
- We exceeded our stretch goal for private giving by $16 million to reach a total of $158 million during a year when many institutions saw declines.
Tremendous thanks to all who participated in these activities and efforts.
Despite a great year, we cannot ignore the challenges ahead. Our exceptional progress and strong strategic framework help make a case for why we are an important investment for the federal government. However, as long as the country’s economic crisis persists, we are vulnerable to reductions in our federal funding.
Where the national policy and budget debates take us in 2011 is hard to predict but I am certain that if we continue to do the same great work that has led to a successful 2010 we will do well in 2011. Our strongest asset is you and I am proud to serve with you.
Thanks to all of you for your support in 2010. Anne and I wish each of you the very best over the holidays and into the New Year.
Posted: 17 December 2010