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Entries in Smithsonian (34)


Weekly Washington: Elephants Now and Then!

photo uploaded to flickr by the Smithsonian InstitutionSo when my wife asks me what I did today, I honestly have no idea. Probably because I've spent way too much time pouring over the photos of old DC landmarks the Smithsonian released this week. (Smithsonian)

The big local news this week, of course, was the short-lived hostage crisis at the Discovery Channel Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD, just outside DC. Fortunately, no one was harmed except for the poor crazy bastard who was responsible for the whole thing. (TBD)

And oh no! My absolute favorite Smithsonian exhibit will be dragged into modern times, kicking and screaming. Western Cultures, 2nd floor of the Natural History Museum, will be closed starting September 26th. The exhibit, which was delightfully dated, was originally designed in 1978, and is looking increasingly out of place as the Museum rapidly upgrades around it. Fine, I guess. Minister Cox and I will just have to find somewhere else to hang out. (WaPo)

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Should You Give This Guy a Buck?

Last Friday, I wandered down to the Mall to see how our Tea Party friends were making out taking in all Washington has to offer. As I exited the Smithsonian Metro, I, like so many visitors before and to come, was immediately accosted by a gentleman offering to help me out.

Repeat visitors to DC are no doubt familiar with what I'm talking about. These guys hang out at the top of the Smithsonian Metro, sell maps, and offer directions. After they give their pitch, they give you a song and dance about trying to raise money for their shelter or some such nonsense, and you're on your way.

Now, I should note that these guys were not here for the Tea Party rally, on the remote chance you might have thought so. Perhaps they were just more visible Friday, as they are uniformly African-American and the Tea Partiers were uniformly not. But these gentlemen appear whenever a large gathering is expected, or for that matter, busy Saturday afternoons. I've walked by them so many times I don't notice them.

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It's Just Too Damn Hot Out There

On a hot day like today, take a wander down to the National Mall, and I guarentee you'll see some prime tantrums being thrown. "It's too hot!" "My feet hurt" "I want ice cream" "I don't care what's in that building, I'm sick of museums!"

And this is just the parents.

So, before your kids turn into a molten pile of goo and your wife gives you that look, take some time to relax, buy them (and you) some ice cream, and maybe even splash around a bit. Here are some options:

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Weekly Washington: Happy Birthday, Smithsonian!

photo uploaded to flickr by SDCDeaCerteThe Smithsonian celebrated their 164th Birthday this week, commemorating the anniversary of when Congress finally pulled their thumb out of their rear and acted on James Smithson's bequest. Or, as they put it; "After ten years of spirited debate and extensive compromise, it was on August 10, 164 years ago today, that President James K. Polk signed a bill presented by the United States Congress establishing the Smithsonian Institution." You say tomato, I say...

Like most local bloggers, I’ve been excited to watch the birth of DC’s latest local news juggernaut, I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out, especially since DC Like a Local is one of TBD’s 100-plus blogs in their Community Network. This week in tourism news they take one for the team and review DC’ s On Location Tours as well as examine why their building is periodically taken over by tour groups.

The District’s slow movement to get our two statues into Statuary Hall gets stalled. Again. Some Representatives led Rep. Dan Lungren (D-CA) think I should only be represented by one statue, instead of two, as I am not a resident of a state. Funny how Rep. Lungren is cool with me paying all of my income taxes, nor do I remember him saying I only had to do half a deployment when I was in the Navy.

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How Many Freaking Smithsonians Are There, Already?

OK, the Smithsonian is kind of an unnecessarily fluid concept in DC. We often used as shorthand to refer to the museums on the National Mall, which is technically incorrect as not all Smithsonians are on the Mall and not all museums on the Mall are Smithsonians (the National Gallery of Art is its own thing and not part of the Smithsonian Institute).

But let’s say I want to break from tradition and actually be accurate on my tours. The problem I run into is how many Smithsonians are there really? Officially, the Smithsonian Institute refers to their “19 museums and the National Zoo”, so let’s go with that number. I can buy not lumping the Zoo in, as zoos are usually not considered museums. Just don’t make me buy into that old tour guide canard that “the zoo is not a museum, it’s a research institution”. They’re all research institutions, guys, one way or another.

So let’s try to get a handle on all nineteen. Our first problem starts when we click through to the above link. Let’s count them up, as listed:

    1. African Art Museum
    2. Air and Space Museum
    3. Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center (oohh, so now I guess we’re counting them separately?)
    4. American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery
    5. American History Museum
    6. American Indian Museum
    7. Anacostia Community Museum
    8. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
    9. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
    10. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
    11. National Zoo (here listed as under Museums, let’s not count this)
    11. Portrait Gallery
    12. Postal Museum
    13. Smithsonian Institution Building, the Castle

And then we get two more, listed under a dividing line:
    14. African American History and Culture Museum (currently in planning stages with a rotating exhibit at the American History Museum, to open in 2015ish).
    15. Arts and Industries Building (currently closed for renovations, I haven’t heard a timeline/plan yet for reopening)

So that gets us up to fifteen (not counting the Zoo, and counting the two museums physically not ready yet). This counts (as it should) the off the Mall museums of Udvar-Hazy near Dulles Airport in Virginia, the Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum in downtown DC, the Anacostia Museum across the Anacostia River in Southeast DC, and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City.

So where are those other four lurking? Well, re-reading our list, I suppose we should break the Renwick Gallery off of the American Art Museum. Frankly, I wish the Smithsonian would as well. The American Art Museum is physically co-located with the National Portrait Gallery at the old Patent Office on F ST NW between 7th and 9th. They share the building, and it takes a really astute observer to notice they are actually two separate museums. Most visitors would never notice. Perversely, the Renwick Gallery, which focuses on crafts and decorative arts, belongs to the American Art Museum, but is physically located several blocks away near the White House. But you wouldn’t really notice this in their collective website, which lumps the two of them together. Annoying, but beyond the scope of our discussion. For our purposes, the Renwick is clearly a separate museum, no matter how the internal structure of the Smithsonian is laid out.

A similar distinction emerges with the Freer/Sackler Galleries. Listed as one Museum; they are at least physically connected, if only by a tunnel. They both focus on Asian Art and share a webpage, but as they are separate buildings I guess we can count them as two museums, bumping our total to seventeen.

So where are those other two hiding? Well, a close look at the National Museum of the American Indian reveals that in addition to their presence on the Mall, they continue to run an earlier incarnation up in New York City, the George Gustav Heye Center at the Customs House near Battery Park in lower Manhattan. And we’re one out away...

And this is where it gets fun. Lurking in the upper left corner I notice the “Virtual Museum” category, with the lonely “Latino Virtual Museum” occupying the only spot. And this is where I put my foot down, Smithsonian. I gave you the African American History and Culture Museum, as plans have progressed, architects have been selected, and they even have a pretty kick-ass exhibition up right now. But I’m sorry guys, just as Second Life is no substitute for the real one, a “virtual museum” doesn’t cut in my book either. Come back and try again when you get something real going with the Latino Museum. I look forward to it.

So, for now, we’re calling it at 18 Museums and the National Zoo. You guys can relax a bit on the count: you’re already world-class, you don’t need to over-compensate.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ian, Germantown for catching me out! I forgot the Natural History Museum!!!! The most visited museum, celebrating it's 100th Anniversary. Holy crap!

Alright, my apologies to the Smithsonian and to the basic concept of mathematics. That puts us safely past 19, with hopes that the Latino Museum will some day be less virtual and round it out to 20.