Washington’s museums shuttered
Government shutdown leaves more than 800,000 federal employees furloughed and an additional 1 million working without pay
By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 01 October 2013
The Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of the American Indian and other federally funded museums in Washington, DC and New York have temporarily closed following the US government’s first shutdown in 17 years. Congress’s failure to authorise a new budget before its 1 October deadline leaves 800,000 federal employees furloughed and 1 million more working without pay.
Only 688 of the Smithsonian’s 4,202 employees are to remain at work during the shutdown. (They include security staff, facilities staff and veterinarians at the National Zoo.) “Non-essential” employees were permitted to come in for four hours this morning “to undertake necessary work for an orderly shutdown”, according to the institution’s contingency plan. The Smithsonian advised employees that it “cannot legally accept voluntary services… to continue their regular duties”, even if they are willing to carry out research or other work without pay. The most recent government closure in 1995, which lasted 21 days, resulted in a loss of around 2 million visitors to the Smithsonian, a Congressional Research Service study reported.
Most employees at the National Gallery of Art, including curators, conservators and educators, do not have access to email or voicemail during the shutdown, according to the museum’s website. Monuments and National Parks across the US are also closed, and the 40 artists-in-residence programs organised through the National Park Service system have been suspended.
Two federal arts agencies—the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the US Commission on Fine Arts—have also ceased regular operations. No more than seven of the NEA’s 156 employees are to remain at work, according to its contingency plan. (Those excepted include the general counsel and the White House liaison.) The NEA’s closure is expected to slow down grant processing and cut off communication between the federal agency and the US’s 50 state arts agencies, according to the Americans for the Arts.
Museums in Washington, DC that do not rely on federal funding, including the Phillips Collection and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, remain open. The National Museum of Women in the Arts is offering free admission to furloughed federal employees who show their government IDs at the admission desk.
Updated, 3 October 2013: Museums that remain open in Washington, DC, noted a marked increase in attendance during the first two days of the government shutdown. The Corcoran Gallery of Art had double its normal visitor numbers on Wednesday, while the Phillips Collection’s attendance was quadruple its regular level. The National Museum of Women in the Arts saw an almost 50% increase in attendance. All three institutions are offering furloughed federal employees discounted or free admission.
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