Issue #58  5/14/2003
Did The Smithsonian Respond to Polital Pressure?

A Washington Post article explored the following question in a recent issue: Did the Smithsonian move an exhibition of Arctic photographs to a less prominent gallery under political pressure? According to the newspaper, that is the contention of the photographer and at least one U.S. Senator.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) displayed the photographs and related book as part of her argument against approving oil and gas leasing in the refuge. "After Boxer spoke, I got a call [saying] that it was perceived by the Smithsonian that my work had a political side," says Subhankar Banerjee, the artist in the article.

In a letter to Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) asked why "the exhibit has now been moved to the basement."

As reported in the story, a spokesman for the Natural History Museum said there had been no political pressure to move the photographs. "Our decision was not based on Senator Boxer, but it didn't help. We do not want to become involved in a debate over standing legislation. We are a nonpartisan, education institution," Randall Kremer said.

But in addition to moving the location of the exhibit, the museum also changed many captions for the photographs. The photographer cited an example of a caption for a picture of a buff-breasted sandpiper that initially talked about the bird's migration pattern and the risk that could result from habitat destruction. In the Smithsonian show, the caption is a simple line identifying the bird and its location. Kremer said Robert Sullivan, associate director of public programs, thought the captions "bordered on advocacy."

This might be just another example of a boneheaded bureaucrat's dumb actions if it were not so chilling.