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This weekend, the usually free National Gallery of Art might not be — in fact, it could not be open at all. With the distinct possibility of a government shutdown looming as a result of disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over setting a national budget, public museums may be the first to close their doors at the end of this week.

So if the government actually shuts down for want of a budget, will public museums close? The short answer is yes, they will. From zoos to parks to art museums, most employees won’t be able to work and visitors won’t have any access to the institutions. But don’t worry about the art, the animals or the plants — key employees, the people who really keep these places running behind the scenes will remain on the job. The Boston Herald reports,

[Some] workers in every museum would be exempt from the ranks of those ordered to stay home. Such essential employees are needed to keep the collections secure and in good condition.

The DC National Mall (image via

This means that animal caretakers and museum security would still work even while administrators and visitor attendants stay home. This government conflict comes at a bad time for DC’s museums, considering they’re approaching one of the biggest visitor weekends of the year, centered around the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s conclusion. “The Smithsonian counts about 3 million visits each April and has already sold 23,000 IMAX movie and lunch combos to school groups for the month,” the Herald notes. According to estimates by the Smithsonian quoted by the Washington Post, “500,000 visitors could be turned away from the National Zoo and the major Smithsonian museums on the Mall.”

How’s that for budget shortfalls? Don’t worry about government funding cuts, national museums really won’t be able to stay open if they can’t even sell tickets, or, you know, have visitors. DC’s monuments would likely also be rendered inaccessible, considering their staffing needs.

The shutdown poses a big threat to museums, not to mention DC’s National Zoo and national parks all around the country. During a similar three-week shutdown in 1995, “national museums and monuments closed, including the Smithsonian and other government buildings, with an estimated loss of about 2 million visitors,” according to MSN. National parks lost 7 million visitors. The National Weather Service even cut down on its reports. Ouch.

Cross your fingers for a new budget, folks. Funding cuts will hurt, but they’re better than closed doors.


  • Washington City Paper has a list of the museums that might be affected by the shutdown, including the Corcoran and the National Gallery of Art.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

One reply on “Will a Government Shutdown Close DC Museums?”

  1. The Republicans, who want to end Social Security, are now prepared to shut down the government to keep women from getting mammograms at Planned Parenthood.

    So how’s that Tea Party-changey thing workin’ out for ya?

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