PDF Version

NEWS RELEASE
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (202) 588-7746
For Immediate Release: January 16th, 2002

Scholars Ask Regents to Stop the Commercialization of the Smithsonian

Commercial Alert and a coalition of 170 scholars and activists sent letters today to the Smithsonian Institution’s governing Board of Regents, asking them to protect the Smithsonian from commercialism, and to fire Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small for commercializing the Smithsonian.

Following is the text of the letter to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Chancellor of the Smithsonian Board of Regents.

Dear Chancellor Rehnquist:

As you know, the Smithsonian Institution was established by Congress in 1846 as a trust instrumentality for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Since then, it has become perhaps our nation’s most important cultural institution.  About 70 percent of Smithsonian’s budget is funded by tax dollars; and it is subject to the audit and reporting requirements of the General Accounting Office, much as an ordinary federal agency.

From the beginning, private money has played a critical role in the Smithsonian’s finances.  Traditionally, this money has been given without significantstrings attached.  The public has felt comfortable that, with this assistance, the Smithsonian has been better able to pursue its own programs, and the donor has received no more than a heartfelt letter of thanks.  We respectfully suggest that it is your responsibility, as a member of the Smithsonian’s governing Board of Regents, to assure that this disinterested role continues.

But in recent years, to encourage donors, the Smithsonian has allowed its name to be used for donors’ commercial purposes, and let donors influence both the nature and content of exhibits.  The result is an erosion of the Smithsonian’s integrity and of the public’s trust.  Members of the public may now legitimately question whether the Smithsonian’s exhibits are an even-handed portrayal of American culture, or are shaped to fit the imperatives of corporate sponsorship.  This shift in Smithsonian policy is short-sighted.  In the long-term, it will severely damage the Smithsonian’s reputation and effectiveness.  We urge you to use your office to reverse it.

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small is permitting corporations, for a fee, to burnish their corporate identities and even to promote specific products using the Smithsonian’s good name.  For example, in exchange for $7.8 million, he created a wave of positive news coverage for Fujifilm by allowing it to “sponsor” the “Fujifilm Giant Panda Conservation Habitat” and the loan of two Chinese pandas to the National Zoo.  “Our partnership with Fujifilm,” gushed Friends of the National Zoo Director Clinton A. Fields, “is based on a mutual concern for animal conservation.” ABC news reported that Fujifilm would “get a lot of promotional benefit” from the sponsorship deal.  Among other things, the exhibit featured a stuffed panda holding a big Fujifilm sign.  And if that weren’t enough, the Smithsonian gave Fujifilm its 2001 “Corporate Leadership Award, thus providing the appearance that the Smithsonian’s judgement is for sale.

In February, the Smithsonian boosted the Kmart Corp.’s marketing efforts by announcing that they were “partners” in a mobile exhibit featuring African-American music, called “Wade in the Water:  African-American Sacred Music Traditions 1871-2001.” The mobile museum is a 48-foot, double-expandable trailer, with giant red Kmart signs on each side.  Kmart boasted that the exhibit fit nicely into its marketing strategy.  It was “really about stepping out in a much more aggressive way,” explained Kmart’s chief marketing officer, Brent Willis.  When asked about whether the Smithsonian was being used for Kmart PR efforts, Secretary Small answered, “Why shouldn’t they get something out of it? They put up the money for it.”

In May, Mr. Small accepted a $38 million pledge from Catherine B. Reynolds, a former owner of the Servus Financial Corp., to fund, among other things, a 10,000 square foot permanent exhibit in the National Museum of American History, which was intended to be a hall of fame of American achievers.  Originally, Ms. Reynolds was to have effective control over the selection of the exhibit’s honorees.  Although subsequent negotiations, following extensive negative press coverage, have modified the impact that Ms. Reynolds’s ideas will have, it seems likely that she will retain substantial influence over the exhibit.  For example, the original contract with Ms. Reynolds included a provision that the bulk of her contribution comes only with her final approval of the location and design of the exhibit.

In effect, Mr. Small is permitting Ms. Reynolds to dictate program to the Smithsonian, sacrificing the Smithsonian’s independence and integrity.  The opportunity costs of the Reynolds exhibit are considerable.  That space could easily be put to better use.  The members of the Smithsonian’s Congress of Scholars in the National Museum of American History rightly questioned Mr. Small’s ethics: “Will the Smithsonian Institution actually allow private funders to rent space in a public museum for the expression of private interests and personal views?” they asked.

It’s a good question, and one the Smithsonian leadership has brushed aside instead of answering.  In June, the Smithsonian Magazine set a new high-water mark for commercialism by placing a Ford Motor Company advertisement on its outside cover.  Meanwhile, the National Museum of American History proposed to General Motors to create a new 20,000 square footGeneral Motors Hall of Transportation in exchange for $10 million. For its part, General Motors says that it will have no influence over the new transportation exhibit. Visitors might wonder; corporate money in Washington generally does not come without a price.  We will see the relative space given to the automobile, as opposed to alternatives present and future.  We will see whether the exhibit tells of industry resistance to efficiency and safety standards, and whether it recounts how General Motors was found guilty of a criminal conspiracy that destroyed local trolley systems across the country.

The beat goes on.  In August, the Smithsonian invited McDonald’s Corp. to open restaurants in the National Air & Space Museum.  This assures the Big Mac a place next to some of our nation’s most treasured relics.  In addition, one may expect that the use of the Smithsonian’s name by McDonald’s, General Motors and other corporate donors will extend far beyond the walls of the Smithsonian.

Taken together, such steps represent the corporatizing of the public space that the Smithsonian was intended to be.  If Mr. Small is permitted to continue his agenda, the Smithsonian will become much like a shopping mall, with virtually every inch devoted to the promotion of a corporation or its products. The story line conveyed to visitors will become essentially a corporate one, to the exclusion of the many other dramas in this great land.

This is not a fantasy.  Under Mr. Small’s tenure, Smithsonian staff have prepared a memo on “Unit Naming Opportunities” - that is, selling the naming rights to nearly every nook, cranny, rotunda, and library in the Smithsonian, including the Great Hall and the Smithsonian Castle Clock Tower.

In his defense, Secretary Small points to the need for private funding to maintain the Smithsonian.  He cites the precedent of naming the Smithsonian’s O. Orkin Insect Zoo center in 1992 following a $500,000 gift from Orkin Pest Control.  But a bad precedent exists to be reversed not replicated. As for funding, Small’s strategy of degrading this great cultural institution into a corporate pitchman will do more harm than good.  If people are proud of the Smithsonian, they will open their hearts and checkbooks, and they will make sure that the federal government follows along.  If they see the Smithsonian is merely another way to sell cars and hamburgers, then they may not.  In other words, the long-term financial costs to such marketing and public relations deals likely overwhelm any short-term financial gains.  In addition, the details of these various agreements with donors have been kept secret, a policy that is inappropriate for an institution that operates as a public trust.

More than anything else, the Smithsonian is a repository for American history, heritage and achievements.  To the extent that Secretary Small has cheapened them, he has diminished us all.  This is not trivial at a time when we are, as a nation, engaged in an effort to explain and uphold our values both in our own country and across the world.

Secretary Small plainly brings good intentions, enthusiasm, and business acumen to his work at the Smithsonian.  However, he is unwilling or unable to carry out the mission of the Smithsonian, or to safeguard its integrity. This great institution was established as a trust instrumentality to promote the “increase and diffusion of knowledge,” not of corporate marketing opportunities; and someone who cannot tell the difference simply is not up to the challenges of steering the Smithsonian in these difficult times.  If Secretary Small has a yearning to promote large corporations, there are many opportunities available to him in the private sector.  The Smithsonian needs a leader who understands how to run the Smithsonian for public - not private - benefit.

Sincerely,

Jean-Christophe Agnew, Professor of American Studies and History, Yale University
Eric Arnesen, Professor of History, University of Illinois, Chicago
William I. Ausich, Professor of Paleontology, Ohio State University; President-Elect, Paleontological Society
David S. Barnes, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University
Peter Barnes, Co-founder, Working Assets
Milo Beach, former Director, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Karen L. Bice, Assistant Scientist, Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Herbert Bix, Professor of History and Sociology, SUNY Binghamton; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
Casey Nelson Blake, Professor of History and American Studies, Columbia University
Raleigh A. Blouch, Team Leader, Park Management Component, Kerinci Seblat National Park ICDP
Julie Boddy, Library of Congress
David Bollier, author, Silent Theft
Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women’s Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Beverly Bossler, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Davis
Timothy J. Bralower, Joseph Sloane Professor and Chair, Department of Geological Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Joan Lisa Bromberg, Visiting Scholar, Department of History of Science, Medicine and Technology, Johns Hopkins University
Jane E. Buikstra, Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
Vernon Burton, Professor of History and Sociology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Brita Butler-Wall, Executive Director, Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools
Kenneth L. Caneva, Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Jason Catlett, President, Junkbusters Corp.
Cinzia Cervato, Assistant Professor, Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, Iowa State University
Lynne Cherry, children’s book author and illustrator, The Great Kapok Tree and A River Ran Wild
Ilias Chrissochoidis, Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
Beth A. Christensen, Assistant Professor of Geology, Georgia State University
Christine B. Christensen, Adjunct Instructor in Graduate Education, The College of New Jersey and Gratz CollegeGeoffrey Clark, Regents Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University; Chair, Anthropology Section, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Lizabeth Cohen, Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Department of History, Harvard University
Rebecca Conard, Associate Professor and Co-director, Public History Program, Middle Tennessee State University
Jonathan Coopersmith, Associate Professor of History, Texas A&M University
James P. Danky, Newspapers and Periodicals Librarian, Wisconsin Historical Society
Faisal A. Dean, biodiversity consultantCharles Derber, Professor of Sociology, Boston College
Anthony Di Fiore, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, New York University
Robert H. Dott,. Jr., Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics, University of Wisconsin
Paul Duguid, co-author, The Social Life of Information
Barbara L. Dugelby, Wildlands Ecologist, The Wildlands Project
David Ekbladh, Fellow, East Asian Institute, Columbia University
J. Mark Erickson, Chapin Professor of Mineralogy and Geology, St. Lawrence University
J. A. Fagerstrom, Professor of Geology Emeritus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
John Farrell, Director of the US Science Support Program, Associate Director of the Ocean Drilling Program, Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc.
Michael Feinstein, Mayor, City of Santa Monica, California*Rodney M. Feldmann, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geology, Kent State University
Mary Felstiner, Professor of History, San Francisco State University
Paul Fitzgerald, Associate Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Syracuse UniversityMiriam Forman-Brunell, Associate Professor of History, University of Missouri, Kansas City
Sylvia Fraser-Lu, independent scholar, Southeast Asian arts and crafts
Michael Frisch, Professor of History & American Studies, SUNY Buffalo; Immediate Past President, American Studies Association
August, W. Giebelhaus, Professor of History, Georgia Institute of Technology
James Gilbert, Distinguished University Professor of History, University of Maryland
Todd Gitlin, Professor of Culture, Journalism and Sociology, New York University
Dale M. Gnidovec, Curator, Orton Geological Museum, Ohio State University
Gary Goldstein, Professor of Physics, Tufts UniversityJulie Greene, Associate Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder
Briann Greenfield, Assistant Professor of History, Central Connecticut State University
Sharon Greytak, filmmaker
Andrew Gulliford, Director, Center of Southwest Studies and Professor of Southwest Studies and History, Fort Lewis College
Hugh Gusterson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nora Guthrie, Executive Director, Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives
Louis Haas, Associate Professor of History, Middle Tennessee State University
William Hagen, Professor of History, University of California, Davis
Rick Halpern, Professor of History, University of TorontoKatherine Hanson, Affiliate Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies, University of Washington
Jonathan Haskett, University of Maryland
Paul Hawken, Chairman, Groxis, Inc.; author, The Ecology of Commerce
Joseph Hellweg, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, Yale University
Markku Henriksson, Director of the Finnish Graduate School for North and Latin American Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland
Jim Hightower, author, former Texas Agricuture Commissioner
Jane H. Hill, Regents’ Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Arizona
Mary Lou Holly, Professor of Education, Kent State University
Lewis Hyde, Thomas Professor of Creative Writing, Kenyon College
Dell Hymes, Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology, University of Virginia; Past-president, American Anthropological Association; Past-president, Linguistic Society of America
Joseph E. Illick, Professor of History, San Francisco State University
Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest; co-author, Marketing MadnessSut Jhally, Founder and Executive Director, The Media Education Foundation
Judith E. Jones, Assistant Director, Faculty Professional Development Center, Kent State University
Larry D. Jones, Associate Professor of Computer Technology, Kent State University
Rachel Kahn-Hut, Professor of Sociology, Emerita, San Francisco State University
Michael Kammen, Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture, Cornell University; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize; former member, Smithsonian Council
Thomas Kammer, Professor of Geology, West Virginia University, Morgantown
Miriam E. Katz , Research Associate, Department of Geological Sciences, Rutgers University
Jean Kilbourne, author, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
Naomi Klein, author, No Logo
Juliet Koss, Assistant Professor of Art History, Scripps College
Alexei Kojevnikov, Assistant Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens
John Krige, Kranzberg Professor, School of History, Technology and Society, Georgia Institute of Technology
Catherine J. Kudlick, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Davis
Peter Kuznick, Associate Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University
Louise Lamphere, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
Ann J. Lane, Professor of History and Director of Studies in Women and Gender, University of Virginia
Helen M. Lang, Associate Professor of Geology, West Virginia University, Morgantown
Velma LaPoint, Associate Professor of Human Development, Howard University
Frances Moore Lappé, authorScott W. Layman, Associate Professor and Interim Assistant Dean, School of Technology, Kent State University
Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Professor of History, Rutgers University
Dan Letwin, Associate Professor of History, Penn State University
Diane Levin, Professor of Education, Wheelock College
Bruce Levine, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Cruz
Lawrence W. Levine, Professor of History, George Mason University; Margaret Byrne Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
Nick Licata, Seattle City Council Member
Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara
Susan Linn, Associate Director, Media Center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center; Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical SchoolvSimi Linton, President, Disability/Arts
Julia E. Liss, Associate Professor of History, Scripps College
Leon F. Litwack, A.F. & May T. Morrison Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley; former President, Organization of American Historians
Paul Loeb, author, Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time
James W. Loewen, author, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
David Marshak, Associate Professor of Education, Seattle University
Bob McCannon, Executive Director, New Mexico Media Literacy Project
Joseph A. McCartin, Associate Professor of History, Georgetown University
Robert McChesney, Research Associate Professor, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; author, Rich Media, Poor DemocracyMargit E. McGuire, Professor and Director of Teacher
Education, Master In Teaching Program, Seattle University
Bill McKibben, author, The End of Nature and The Age of Missing Information
D. Lorne McWatters, Professor of History, Middle Tennessee State University
Mary Anne Mercer, Senior Lecturer, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Jim Metrock, President, Obligation, Inc.
Jeffery W. Meyer, former Member, National Museum of Natural History Advisory Board
Brian Miller, conservation biologist, University of Denver; former Smithsonian post-doctoral fellow
Howard S. Miller, Professor of History Emeritus, University of Missouri, St. Louis
Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University
Peter Miller, documentary filmmaker
Patricia Mooney-Melvin, Associate Professor of History, Loyola University Chicago
Diane Morrison, Research Professor and Associate Dean for Research, University of Washington School of Social Work
Kevin Neuhouser, Associate Professor of Sociology, Seattle Pacific University
Marian L. Neuhouser, Senior Staff Scientist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
David Noble, Professor of History, York University; former Curator, National Museum of American History
Ruth Oldenziel, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam; former Smithsonian Fellow
Peter Parshall, Curator, Washington, DC
Donald R. Peacor, Professor of Geological Sciences, University of Michigan
Sabrina Peck, Associate Professor of Elementary Education, California State University Northridge
Jonathan Prude, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, Emory University; former Fellow, National Museum of American History
Janice Radway, Frances Fox Hill Professor in Humanities, Duke University
Sheldon Rampton, Editor, PR Watch
Richard P. Reading, Director of Conservation Biology, Denver Zoological Foundation
Lee Richardson, former President, Consumer Federation of America
Bruce Robertson, Professor, History of Art, University of California, Santa Barbara; Chief Curator, Center for American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of ArtReverend
William O. Rodefer, First Congregational Church, Akron, Ohio
Daniel T. Rodgers, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Princeton University
David Roediger, Kendrick C. Babcock Professor of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Nicole Rosmarino, Endangered Species Coordinator, Forest Guardians
Jonathan Rowe, fellow, Tomales Bay Institute
Gary Ruskin, Executive Director, Commercial Alert
Ethan Segal, Graduate Research Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
David Serlin, Assistant Professor of History and American Studies, Albright College
Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College
Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory, Duke University
Michael M. Sokal, Professor of History, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Rickie Solinger, historian; author, Beggars and Choosers
Amy Dru Stanley, Associate Professor of History, University of Chicago
Amy L. S. Staples, Assistant Professor of History, Middle Tennessee State University
John Stauber, Executive Director, Center for Media and Democracy
Susan Strasser, Professor of History, University of Delaware
Donna Surge, Assistant Professor, Department of Geological & Atmospheric Sciences, Iowa State University
Ronald E. Sutton, Professor Emeritus, American University
Betsy Taylor, Executive Director, Center for a New American Dream
John Terborgh, James B. Duke Professor, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
Paul Turnbull, Professor of History, James Cook University
Jules Tygiel, Professor of History, San Francisco State University
Ken Vinciquerra, Assistant Professor of Computer Technology, Kent State University
Beverly R. Voloshin, Professor of English, San Francisco State University
Jane C. Waldbaum, Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Cheryl Walker, Richard Armour Professor of Modern Languages, Scripps College
Daniel J. Walkowitz, Professor of History and Director, Metropolitan Studies, New York University; 2001-02 Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
Mike Wallace, co-author, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
Robert R. Weyeneth, Associate Professor of History and Co-Director, Public History Program, University of South Carolina
Nancy C. Wilkie, William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology, and the Liberal Arts, Carleton College
Michiko N. Wilson, Professor of Japanese, University of Virginia
Aladdin M. Yaqub, Research Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
Norman Yoffee, Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies, University of Michigan
Michael Zuckerman, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
* affiliation for identification purposes only

<---------letter ends here-------->

Commercial Alert’s mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.  Commercial Alert’s website is at http://www.commercialalert.org.

-30-

PDF Version

NEWS RELEASE
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (202) 588-7746
For Immediate Release: January 16th, 2002

Scholars Ask Regents to Stop the Commercialization of the Smithsonian

Commercial Alert and a coalition of 170 scholars and activists sent letters today to the Smithsonian Institution’s governing Board of Regents, asking them to protect the Smithsonian from commercialism, and to fire Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small for commercializing the Smithsonian.

Following is the text of the letter to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Chancellor of the Smithsonian Board of Regents.

Dear Chancellor Rehnquist:

As you know, the Smithsonian Institution was established by Congress in 1846 as a trust instrumentality for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Since then, it has become perhaps our nation’s most important cultural institution.  About 70 percent of Smithsonian’s budget is funded by tax dollars; and it is subject to the audit and reporting requirements of the General Accounting Office, much as an ordinary federal agency.

From the beginning, private money has played a critical role in the Smithsonian’s finances.  Traditionally, this money has been given without significantstrings attached.  The public has felt comfortable that, with this assistance, the Smithsonian has been better able to pursue its own programs, and the donor has received no more than a heartfelt letter of thanks.  We respectfully suggest that it is your responsibility, as a member of the Smithsonian’s governing Board of Regents, to assure that this disinterested role continues.

But in recent years, to encourage donors, the Smithsonian has allowed its name to be used for donors’ commercial purposes, and let donors influence both the nature and content of exhibits.  The result is an erosion of the Smithsonian’s integrity and of the public’s trust.  Members of the public may now legitimately question whether the Smithsonian’s exhibits are an even-handed portrayal of American culture, or are shaped to fit the imperatives of corporate sponsorship.  This shift in Smithsonian policy is short-sighted.  In the long-term, it will severely damage the Smithsonian’s reputation and effectiveness.  We urge you to use your office to reverse it.

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small is permitting corporations, for a fee, to burnish their corporate identities and even to promote specific products using the Smithsonian’s good name.  For example, in exchange for $7.8 million, he created a wave of positive news coverage for Fujifilm by allowing it to “sponsor” the “Fujifilm Giant Panda Conservation Habitat” and the loan of two Chinese pandas to the National Zoo.  “Our partnership with Fujifilm,” gushed Friends of the National Zoo Director Clinton A. Fields, “is based on a mutual concern for animal conservation.” ABC news reported that Fujifilm would “get a lot of promotional benefit” from the sponsorship deal.  Among other things, the exhibit featured a stuffed panda holding a big Fujifilm sign.  And if that weren’t enough, the Smithsonian gave Fujifilm its 2001 “Corporate Leadership Award, thus providing the appearance that the Smithsonian’s judgement is for sale.

In February, the Smithsonian boosted the Kmart Corp.’s marketing efforts by announcing that they were “partners” in a mobile exhibit featuring African-American music, called “Wade in the Water:  African-American Sacred Music Traditions 1871-2001.” The mobile museum is a 48-foot, double-expandable trailer, with giant red Kmart signs on each side.  Kmart boasted that the exhibit fit nicely into its marketing strategy.  It was “really about stepping out in a much more aggressive way,” explained Kmart’s chief marketing officer, Brent Willis.  When asked about whether the Smithsonian was being used for Kmart PR efforts, Secretary Small answered, “Why shouldn’t they get something out of it? They put up the money for it.”

In May, Mr. Small accepted a $38 million pledge from Catherine B. Reynolds, a former owner of the Servus Financial Corp., to fund, among other things, a 10,000 square foot permanent exhibit in the National Museum of American History, which was intended to be a hall of fame of American achievers.  Originally, Ms. Reynolds was to have effective control over the selection of the exhibit’s honorees.  Although subsequent negotiations, following extensive negative press coverage, have modified the impact that Ms. Reynolds’s ideas will have, it seems likely that she will retain substantial influence over the exhibit.  For example, the original contract with Ms. Reynolds included a provision that the bulk of her contribution comes only with her final approval of the location and design of the exhibit.

In effect, Mr. Small is permitting Ms. Reynolds to dictate program to the Smithsonian, sacrificing the Smithsonian’s independence and integrity.  The opportunity costs of the Reynolds exhibit are considerable.  That space could easily be put to better use.  The members of the Smithsonian’s Congress of Scholars in the National Museum of American History rightly questioned Mr. Small’s ethics: “Will the Smithsonian Institution actually allow private funders to rent space in a public museum for the expression of private interests and personal views?” they asked.

It’s a good question, and one the Smithsonian leadership has brushed aside instead of answering.  In June, the Smithsonian Magazine set a new high-water mark for commercialism by placing a Ford Motor Company advertisement on its outside cover.  Meanwhile, the National Museum of American History proposed to General Motors to create a new 20,000 square footGeneral Motors Hall of Transportation in exchange for $10 million. For its part, General Motors says that it will have no influence over the new transportation exhibit. Visitors might wonder; corporate money in Washington generally does not come without a price.  We will see the relative space given to the automobile, as opposed to alternatives present and future.  We will see whether the exhibit tells of industry resistance to efficiency and safety standards, and whether it recounts how General Motors was found guilty of a criminal conspiracy that destroyed local trolley systems across the country.

The beat goes on.  In August, the Smithsonian invited McDonald’s Corp. to open restaurants in the National Air & Space Museum.  This assures the Big Mac a place next to some of our nation’s most treasured relics.  In addition, one may expect that the use of the Smithsonian’s name by McDonald’s, General Motors and other corporate donors will extend far beyond the walls of the Smithsonian.

Taken together, such steps represent the corporatizing of the public space that the Smithsonian was intended to be.  If Mr. Small is permitted to continue his agenda, the Smithsonian will become much like a shopping mall, with virtually every inch devoted to the promotion of a corporation or its products. The story line conveyed to visitors will become essentially a corporate one, to the exclusion of the many other dramas in this great land.

This is not a fantasy.  Under Mr. Small’s tenure, Smithsonian staff have prepared a memo on “Unit Naming Opportunities” - that is, selling the naming rights to nearly every nook, cranny, rotunda, and library in the Smithsonian, including the Great Hall and the Smithsonian Castle Clock Tower.

In his defense, Secretary Small points to the need for private funding to maintain the Smithsonian.  He cites the precedent of naming the Smithsonian’s O. Orkin Insect Zoo center in 1992 following a $500,000 gift from Orkin Pest Control.  But a bad precedent exists to be reversed not replicated. As for funding, Small’s strategy of degrading this great cultural institution into a corporate pitchman will do more harm than good.  If people are proud of the Smithsonian, they will open their hearts and checkbooks, and they will make sure that the federal government follows along.  If they see the Smithsonian is merely another way to sell cars and hamburgers, then they may not.  In other words, the long-term financial costs to such marketing and public relations deals likely overwhelm any short-term financial gains.  In addition, the details of these various agreements with donors have been kept secret, a policy that is inappropriate for an institution that operates as a public trust.

More than anything else, the Smithsonian is a repository for American history, heritage and achievements.  To the extent that Secretary Small has cheapened them, he has diminished us all.  This is not trivial at a time when we are, as a nation, engaged in an effort to explain and uphold our values both in our own country and across the world.

Secretary Small plainly brings good intentions, enthusiasm, and business acumen to his work at the Smithsonian.  However, he is unwilling or unable to carry out the mission of the Smithsonian, or to safeguard its integrity. This great institution was established as a trust instrumentality to promote the “increase and diffusion of knowledge,” not of corporate marketing opportunities; and someone who cannot tell the difference simply is not up to the challenges of steering the Smithsonian in these difficult times.  If Secretary Small has a yearning to promote large corporations, there are many opportunities available to him in the private sector.  The Smithsonian needs a leader who understands how to run the Smithsonian for public - not private - benefit.

Sincerely,

Jean-Christophe Agnew, Professor of American Studies and History, Yale University
Eric Arnesen, Professor of History, University of Illinois, Chicago
William I. Ausich, Professor of Paleontology, Ohio State University; President-Elect, Paleontological Society
David S. Barnes, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University
Peter Barnes, Co-founder, Working Assets
Milo Beach, former Director, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Karen L. Bice, Assistant Scientist, Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Herbert Bix, Professor of History and Sociology, SUNY Binghamton; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
Casey Nelson Blake, Professor of History and American Studies, Columbia University
Raleigh A. Blouch, Team Leader, Park Management Component, Kerinci Seblat National Park ICDP
Julie Boddy, Library of Congress
David Bollier, author, Silent Theft
Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women’s Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Beverly Bossler, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Davis
Timothy J. Bralower, Joseph Sloane Professor and Chair, Department of Geological Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Joan Lisa Bromberg, Visiting Scholar, Department of History of Science, Medicine and Technology, Johns Hopkins University
Jane E. Buikstra, Leslie Spier Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
Vernon Burton, Professor of History and Sociology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Brita Butler-Wall, Executive Director, Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools
Kenneth L. Caneva, Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Jason Catlett, President, Junkbusters Corp.
Cinzia Cervato, Assistant Professor, Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, Iowa State University
Lynne Cherry, children’s book author and illustrator, The Great Kapok Tree and A River Ran Wild
Ilias Chrissochoidis, Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
Beth A. Christensen, Assistant Professor of Geology, Georgia State University
Christine B. Christensen, Adjunct Instructor in Graduate Education, The College of New Jersey and Gratz CollegeGeoffrey Clark, Regents Professor of Anthropology, Arizona State University; Chair, Anthropology Section, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Lizabeth Cohen, Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Department of History, Harvard University
Rebecca Conard, Associate Professor and Co-director, Public History Program, Middle Tennessee State University
Jonathan Coopersmith, Associate Professor of History, Texas A&M University
James P. Danky, Newspapers and Periodicals Librarian, Wisconsin Historical Society
Faisal A. Dean, biodiversity consultantCharles Derber, Professor of Sociology, Boston College
Anthony Di Fiore, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, New York University
Robert H. Dott,. Jr., Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics, University of Wisconsin
Paul Duguid, co-author, The Social Life of Information
Barbara L. Dugelby, Wildlands Ecologist, The Wildlands Project
David Ekbladh, Fellow, East Asian Institute, Columbia University
J. Mark Erickson, Chapin Professor of Mineralogy and Geology, St. Lawrence University
J. A. Fagerstrom, Professor of Geology Emeritus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
John Farrell, Director of the US Science Support Program, Associate Director of the Ocean Drilling Program, Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc.
Michael Feinstein, Mayor, City of Santa Monica, California*Rodney M. Feldmann, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geology, Kent State University
Mary Felstiner, Professor of History, San Francisco State University
Paul Fitzgerald, Associate Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Syracuse UniversityMiriam Forman-Brunell, Associate Professor of History, University of Missouri, Kansas City
Sylvia Fraser-Lu, independent scholar, Southeast Asian arts and crafts
Michael Frisch, Professor of History & American Studies, SUNY Buffalo; Immediate Past President, American Studies Association
August, W. Giebelhaus, Professor of History, Georgia Institute of Technology
James Gilbert, Distinguished University Professor of History, University of Maryland
Todd Gitlin, Professor of Culture, Journalism and Sociology, New York University
Dale M. Gnidovec, Curator, Orton Geological Museum, Ohio State University
Gary Goldstein, Professor of Physics, Tufts UniversityJulie Greene, Associate Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder
Briann Greenfield, Assistant Professor of History, Central Connecticut State University
Sharon Greytak, filmmaker
Andrew Gulliford, Director, Center of Southwest Studies and Professor of Southwest Studies and History, Fort Lewis College
Hugh Gusterson, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Nora Guthrie, Executive Director, Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives
Louis Haas, Associate Professor of History, Middle Tennessee State University
William Hagen, Professor of History, University of California, Davis
Rick Halpern, Professor of History, University of TorontoKatherine Hanson, Affiliate Associate Professor of Scandinavian Studies, University of Washington
Jonathan Haskett, University of Maryland
Paul Hawken, Chairman, Groxis, Inc.; author, The Ecology of Commerce
Joseph Hellweg, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, Yale University
Markku Henriksson, Director of the Finnish Graduate School for North and Latin American Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland
Jim Hightower, author, former Texas Agricuture Commissioner
Jane H. Hill, Regents’ Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Arizona
Mary Lou Holly, Professor of Education, Kent State University
Lewis Hyde, Thomas Professor of Creative Writing, Kenyon College
Dell Hymes, Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology, University of Virginia; Past-president, American Anthropological Association; Past-president, Linguistic Society of America
Joseph E. Illick, Professor of History, San Francisco State University
Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest; co-author, Marketing MadnessSut Jhally, Founder and Executive Director, The Media Education Foundation
Judith E. Jones, Assistant Director, Faculty Professional Development Center, Kent State University
Larry D. Jones, Associate Professor of Computer Technology, Kent State University
Rachel Kahn-Hut, Professor of Sociology, Emerita, San Francisco State University
Michael Kammen, Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture, Cornell University; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize; former member, Smithsonian Council
Thomas Kammer, Professor of Geology, West Virginia University, Morgantown
Miriam E. Katz , Research Associate, Department of Geological Sciences, Rutgers University
Jean Kilbourne, author, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
Naomi Klein, author, No Logo
Juliet Koss, Assistant Professor of Art History, Scripps College
Alexei Kojevnikov, Assistant Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens
John Krige, Kranzberg Professor, School of History, Technology and Society, Georgia Institute of Technology
Catherine J. Kudlick, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Davis
Peter Kuznick, Associate Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University
Louise Lamphere, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
Ann J. Lane, Professor of History and Director of Studies in Women and Gender, University of Virginia
Helen M. Lang, Associate Professor of Geology, West Virginia University, Morgantown
Velma LaPoint, Associate Professor of Human Development, Howard University
Frances Moore Lappé, authorScott W. Layman, Associate Professor and Interim Assistant Dean, School of Technology, Kent State University
Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Professor of History, Rutgers University
Dan Letwin, Associate Professor of History, Penn State University
Diane Levin, Professor of Education, Wheelock College
Bruce Levine, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Cruz
Lawrence W. Levine, Professor of History, George Mason University; Margaret Byrne Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
Nick Licata, Seattle City Council Member
Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara
Susan Linn, Associate Director, Media Center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center; Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical SchoolvSimi Linton, President, Disability/Arts
Julia E. Liss, Associate Professor of History, Scripps College
Leon F. Litwack, A.F. & May T. Morrison Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley; former President, Organization of American Historians
Paul Loeb, author, Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time
James W. Loewen, author, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
David Marshak, Associate Professor of Education, Seattle University
Bob McCannon, Executive Director, New Mexico Media Literacy Project
Joseph A. McCartin, Associate Professor of History, Georgetown University
Robert McChesney, Research Associate Professor, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; author, Rich Media, Poor DemocracyMargit E. McGuire, Professor and Director of Teacher
Education, Master In Teaching Program, Seattle University
Bill McKibben, author, The End of Nature and The Age of Missing Information
D. Lorne McWatters, Professor of History, Middle Tennessee State University
Mary Anne Mercer, Senior Lecturer, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Jim Metrock, President, Obligation, Inc.
Jeffery W. Meyer, former Member, National Museum of Natural History Advisory Board
Brian Miller, conservation biologist, University of Denver; former Smithsonian post-doctoral fellow
Howard S. Miller, Professor of History Emeritus, University of Missouri, St. Louis
Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University
Peter Miller, documentary filmmaker
Patricia Mooney-Melvin, Associate Professor of History, Loyola University Chicago
Diane Morrison, Research Professor and Associate Dean for Research, University of Washington School of Social Work
Kevin Neuhouser, Associate Professor of Sociology, Seattle Pacific University
Marian L. Neuhouser, Senior Staff Scientist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
David Noble, Professor of History, York University; former Curator, National Museum of American History
Ruth Oldenziel, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam; former Smithsonian Fellow
Peter Parshall, Curator, Washington, DC
Donald R. Peacor, Professor of Geological Sciences, University of Michigan
Sabrina Peck, Associate Professor of Elementary Education, California State University Northridge
Jonathan Prude, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, Emory University; former Fellow, National Museum of American History
Janice Radway, Frances Fox Hill Professor in Humanities, Duke University
Sheldon Rampton, Editor, PR Watch
Richard P. Reading, Director of Conservation Biology, Denver Zoological Foundation
Lee Richardson, former President, Consumer Federation of America
Bruce Robertson, Professor, History of Art, University of California, Santa Barbara; Chief Curator, Center for American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of ArtReverend
William O. Rodefer, First Congregational Church, Akron, Ohio
Daniel T. Rodgers, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Princeton University
David Roediger, Kendrick C. Babcock Professor of History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Nicole Rosmarino, Endangered Species Coordinator, Forest Guardians
Jonathan Rowe, fellow, Tomales Bay Institute
Gary Ruskin, Executive Director, Commercial Alert
Ethan Segal, Graduate Research Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
David Serlin, Assistant Professor of History and American Studies, Albright College
Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College
Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory, Duke University
Michael M. Sokal, Professor of History, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Rickie Solinger, historian; author, Beggars and Choosers
Amy Dru Stanley, Associate Professor of History, University of Chicago
Amy L. S. Staples, Assistant Professor of History, Middle Tennessee State University
John Stauber, Executive Director, Center for Media and Democracy
Susan Strasser, Professor of History, University of Delaware
Donna Surge, Assistant Professor, Department of Geological & Atmospheric Sciences, Iowa State University
Ronald E. Sutton, Professor Emeritus, American University
Betsy Taylor, Executive Director, Center for a New American Dream
John Terborgh, James B. Duke Professor, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
Paul Turnbull, Professor of History, James Cook University
Jules Tygiel, Professor of History, San Francisco State University
Ken Vinciquerra, Assistant Professor of Computer Technology, Kent State University
Beverly R. Voloshin, Professor of English, San Francisco State University
Jane C. Waldbaum, Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Cheryl Walker, Richard Armour Professor of Modern Languages, Scripps College
Daniel J. Walkowitz, Professor of History and Director, Metropolitan Studies, New York University; 2001-02 Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
Mike Wallace, co-author, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898; recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
Robert R. Weyeneth, Associate Professor of History and Co-Director, Public History Program, University of South Carolina
Nancy C. Wilkie, William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology, and the Liberal Arts, Carleton College
Michiko N. Wilson, Professor of Japanese, University of Virginia
Aladdin M. Yaqub, Research Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center
Norman Yoffee, Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies, University of Michigan
Michael Zuckerman, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
* affiliation for identification purposes only

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Commercial Alert’s mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.  Commercial Alert’s website is at http://www.commercialalert.org.

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