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How the Looming US Government Shutdown Will Affect the World of Art

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(image via Flickr user Tommy Ironic)

By midnight this evening, we’ll finally know whether the government will be shut down — that’s the silver lining to be found in the otherwise bleak congressional budget debate. If the Beltway does not come to an agreement very soon, up to a predicted million government employees deemed unessential by their agencies may be furloughed. National HeadStart, the early childhood development program serving low-income families with children under five, will see its programs suspended.

For the arts, the privations are not as stinging, but no less sweeping. In the event of a shutdown all of the Smithsonian Institution’s 19 museums and galleries, including the National Zoo, National Air and Space Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and both Museums of the American Indian (in D.C. and New York City), would close. At the Library of Congress, the closures do not end with with just the buildings, even its website may not be spared the ax. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, however, expects to remain open.

The disruptions posed by the possible shutdown vary. The Hirshhorn, where the Peter Coffin: Here and There show ends Octover 6, could conceivably find its exhibition coming to a unseen end. For the National Portrait Gallery, it’s the opposite, with the opening of its Dancing the Dream exhibit being threatened by a hold up. According to the New York Times, such a closure would come up a little short in its art pangs from the last time the government unceremoniously ground to a halt in 1995, “when the doors to the National Portrait Gallery closed at noon, leaving some visitors fuming outside a locked entrance after they had traveled to Washington to see a Winslow Homer exhibition.”

Another way itinerant artists, museumgoers, and assorted hangers-on may be affected is in the realm of international travel. This is because US passports and visas are one of the many services that will be put on pause during a shutdown. If the shutdown is brief, this won’t be a big deal, but in 1995, when the government shut down for nearly a month, between 20,000 and 30,000 visas applications went unprocessed every day while a total 200,000 passports applications sat unprocessed.

All the more reason for hope (or contact your representative) for the government to stay open.

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