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Directors for many of the Smithsonian Institute’s 19 museums were present this morning to officially reopen their buildings to the public after being forced to lock their doors during the largest government shutdown in American history.
800,000 federal employees returned to their jobs today, including the thousands of cultural workers at the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers, and zoo. Thanks to carry-over funds from the last fiscal year, the organization managed to remain open for the first 11 days of the shutdown before succumbing to the financial realities of a federal budget freeze for the next 27 days.
Last week, Smithsonian secretary David Skorton estimated that the institution was losing $1 million a week in unrecoverable revenues due to the closure of the organization’s biggest moneymakers: restaurants, shops, and IMAX theaters.
“School trips cannot occur with museums closed,” he wrote in an article for USA Today. “The research of curators and others in our museums is halted. Numerous expeditions and field campaigns related to biodiversity, human origins, and healthy forests and waterways have been canceled.”
Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the organization, confirmed Skorton’s appraisal of the situation over the phone with Hyperallergic. “Total revenues lost during the shutdown are $3.4 million,” she said.
However, the spokesperson was quick to acknowledge that the lost finances are only a small percentage of the Smithsonian’s billion dollar budget approved by Congress. “Nonetheless, this is money that’s lost, and we will never regain it,” St. Thomas added.
It’s unlikely that the shutdown will have long-term consequences for the 172-year-old institution, although it has caused many short-term headaches for curators and programmers who must now reschedule a month’s worth of activities for the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and 20 research centers.
“There will be effects for some months,” St. Thomas added, “Smithsonian associates have had programs and lectures that were postponed, but I don’t know of anything that will be cut.”
The institute’s spokesperson named three exhibitions that the Smithsonian’s museums are now in the process of rescheduling: Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence at the National Portrait Gallery was scheduled to open on March 1, the anniversary of the 1913 Washington DC suffrage parade, but will likely open a few weeks to a month later. Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths at the National Museum of African Art will also be delayed from its intended February 27 opening date. Additionally, the Smithsonian Gardens has indefinitely postponed its annual orchid display.
If President Donald Trump cannot reach a deal with Congress for (or against) the funding of his border wall within three weeks, federal employees may face another government shutdown. On Sunday, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced his intention to prevent future government shutdowns from occurring in the event of funding lapses.
“Now that the shutdown is over, we should roll up our sleeves and make sure it never happens again,” Schumer said at a Manhattan news conference, according to Newsday.
Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have both introduced separate bills that would help prevent another shutdown by renewing funding for most aspects of government. (Warner’s legislation, for example, would give money to all departments and agencies except the legislative branch and president’s office.)
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal published an interview with Trump where the president says he views the chances of a potential deal among lawmakers as “less than 50-50.”
When asked if the Smithsonian had a strategy in place for handling another government shutdown should the border wall negotiations collapse, St. Thomas replied, “Our contingency plan is that without federal funding, we can’t open.”