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January 3rd, 2019 - 02:43 PM
By Andrew Russeth POSTED 01/02/19 2:07 pm
In Washington, D.C.’s museum world, 2019 is beginning with a whimper.
As the partial shutdown of the federal government enters its second full week, all Smithsonian museums and many other agencies in D.C. and beyond have shuttered for lack of funds, or are getting ready to close for an indefinite period. Among those closed on Wednesday were the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. and New York; and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York.
The National Gallery of Art, which is not part of the Smithsonian but receives significant government funding, was open, but if legislation is not passed to provide funding by midnight tonight, it will also close Thursday, according to a press representative. [Update, January 3: The NGA closed on Thursday.]
The shutdown began at midnight on December 22, but some cultural institutions were able to keep operating by cobbling together unspent funds that have now run out. (The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, by way of contrast, ceased operations immediately.)
The shutdown is the result of lawmakers leaving town for the holidays without passing a budget that President Trump said he would be willing to sign. The President has insisted on $5 billion being allocated for a wall along the U.S-Mexico border and said last month that he would be “proud to shut down the government” if his demands were not met. (Since then, he has blamed Democrats for the closure.)
While museums lie dormant and their workers go unpaid, clocks are ticking on the run of temporary exhibitions. At the Hirshhorn, a show of recent paintings by the Irish-American painter Sean Scully is set to end February 3. Asked on Wednesday about the federal paralysis, Scully said in an email via his gallery Cheim & Read, “The Hirshhorn is a government museum, so it necessarily follows that if there’s a government shutdown, the Hirshhorn will be shut. The bigger question is, why do we have the government we have? And what is it doing to the dignity of America?”
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