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Smithsonian's Policy on Controversial Shows

Smithsonian's Policy on Controversial Shows

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Smithsonian Institution's "Directive 603," which sets policies and procedures to be followed for shows that may provoke controversy.
Smithsonian Institution's "Directive 603," which sets policies and procedures to be followed for shows that may provoke controversy.

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Published by: Lee Rosenbaum, CultureGrrl on Jan 19, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Background 1Definitions 3Purpose 3Authority 4Accountability 4Guidelines 5
In 1995, the Report of the Commission on the Future ofthe Smithsonian Institution observed that:Museums in general, and the Smithsonianin particular, are increasingly flash points inthe debates that characterize our nation'stransition from a society that depends forcoherence on a single accepted set ofvalues and practices to one that derives itsstrength and unity from a deep tolerance ofdiversity. This happens because museums,to fulfill their missions, must prepareexhibitions that record and illuminate thistransition. This sometimes results inacrimonious and contentious debate oncontroversial subjects. The Smithsonian hashardly been immune. Its position isespecially challenging because it is anational institution with large and complexcollections and missions.
Smithsonian Directive 60311/06/032
(Continued)The Smithsonian Institution is the repository for millions ofobjects and specimens that are housed in its 16museums and storage facilities in Washington, D.C., NewYork City, Maryland, Virginia, and elsewhere. In addition,the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and severalother scientific research facilities maintain livingcollections that include hundreds of species of animal andplant life. The Smithsonian also sends travelingexhibitions throughout the United States and abroad.Millions of visits are made annually to Smithsonianexhibitions by individuals with motivations such aseducation, entertainment, nostalgia, and patriotism.Visitors expect to have authentic experiences inexhibitions at the Smithsonian, especially with objects thatare unique, authentic, and iconic. Smithsonian exhibitionsare meant to be stimulating, and the Institution remainsopen to lively discussion and debate of relevantintellectual and social issues.The Smithsonian is committed to serious and soundscholarship, to preserving and making accessible theNational Collection, and to creating accurate, balanced,and high-quality interpretations of objects on exhibition forthe visiting public. Each museum and exhibiting unit hasestablished a procedure for developing exhibitionsaccording to subject matter, resources, and visitorexpectations.Those procedures are expected to adhere to the policiesand procedures outlined in this directive.
Smithsonian Directive 60311/06/033
The following definitions apply in the context of thisdirective:
Any public display that includes one or moreartifacts, objects, specimens, photographs, illustrations,art, or digital images or may include props andinformative panels. Smithsonian museums and unitscreate exhibitions that vary in size, scope, type, and intent.Exhibitions which travel to Smithsonian museums andexhibiting units from other organizations are also subjectto these policies.
Sensitive issues: 
Issues on which curators, scholars, orsegments of the public may disagree on substantivegrounds as to the presentation or contents of anexhibition.
Under Secretary: 
The appropriate SmithsonianInstitution Under Secretary or the Director of theInternational Art Museums Division.
The objectives of this directive are:
to stimulate thoughtful analysis and refinement ofestablished practices for creating exhibitions
to maintain a system for reviewing and updating on aregular basis exhibition planning guidelines specific toeach museum or exhibiting unit to ensure thatappropriate mechanisms are in place for key issues,such as establishing project management systems todeliver projects on time and within budgets, monitoringexhibition content for accuracy and quality,implementing external and internal evaluations,providing intellectual and physical accessibility, andmanaging potentially sensitive issues
to identify accountability at all levels

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