Facade of the Newseum, which is slated to close after December 31, 2019

Facade of the Newseum, which is slated to close after December 31, 2019

Washington D.C. is a museum destination. Art, science, history — you name it, we’ve got a museum, or at least a gallery, dedicated to it.

But in this museum-rich town, it’s not easy to succeed. The slated closure of the Newseum at the end of this month is a case in point.

It’s costly to maintain a building, pay staff, and launch new exhibits. The competition for visitors is fierce. And the bar to make museums interactive, accessible and different from anything available elsewhere rises higher and higher.

What’s special — and especially challenging — about Washington’s museum ecosystem?

We’ll meet some of the people who help make this town a museum capital of the world.

Produced by Lauren Markoe

Guests

Transcript

  • 12:00:17

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Washington D.C. is a museum smorgasbord. We've got museums for art, architecture, history, science, spies and soon language, but it can be difficult to maintain a museum in this town without the help of the taxpayer dollars, which benefit the Smithsonian institutions. What makes Washington a special, but also uniquely challenging place for museums? What new museums are coming to the District, and how are museums trying to wow visitors and balance their budgets at the same time? Joining me in studio is Jackie Fishman, a Freelance Writer and a Docent at The Newseum. Jackie Fishman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:58

    JACKE FISHMANYou're welcome. Thank you for having me.

  • 12:00:59

    NNAMDIYou'll be a Docent at the Newseum for just a few more weeks until it closes at year's end. What is Washington going to miss once this museum devoted to a free press is shuttered?

  • 12:01:10

    FISHMANWell, I certainly know what I'm going to miss, which is sharing my enthusiasm for the Newseum and watching the reactions of the visitors to the exhibits. We have relics that are unique to not only Washington D.C., but to many -- probably throughout the world. So I think what everyone is going to miss is looking at the actual pieces of the Berlin Wall, the checkpoint Charlie Tower, the Unabomber cabin, which never fails to impress and excite the individuals that visit the Newseum. Looking at the freedom forms map of the world wide free press, the status of free press and you're nodding and smiling, because that is a very revealing and interesting look at where we have free press and where it's endangered in the world. And certainly the antenna from the World Trade Center is another look at a piece of recent history that everybody relates to.

  • 12:02:15

    NNAMDIThough the Newseum building is about to be sold to John's Hopkins University, its mission will continue. In what ways?

  • 12:02:22

    FISHMANThe mission will continue the way I understand it as a volunteer, of course, in the online resources that the museum has very carefully developed. They have NewseumED, capital E, capital D, dot org and newseum.org and the mission of making sure that people are aware of what the freedoms are of the First Amendment will continue through those two websites. And also they will be I understand loaning out some of the large relics for different exhibits throughout the city at different points.

  • 12:03:01

    NNAMDIWe invited the officials from the Newseum to participate in this conversation, but they declined. Also joining me in studio is Patricia Isacson Sabee, Executive Director of Planet Word. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:03:15

    PATRICIA ISACSON SABEEThank you. Glad to be here.

  • 12:03:17

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Dorothy Kosinski, Director of The Phillips Collection. Dorothy, always a pleasure.

  • 12:03:22

    DOROTHY KOSINSKII always enjoy being here with you. Thank you.

  • 12:03:24

    NNAMDIAnd Eduardo Diaz is Director of the Smithsonian Latino Center. Eduardo Diaz, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:03:30

    EDUARDO DIAZMy pleasure, Kojo. Thank you.

  • 12:03:31

    NNAMDIYou have been a museum professional for decades. What did the Newseum do right and where do you think it faltered?

  • 12:03:38

    DIAZWe had a collaboration, the Smithsonian's American History Museum a couple of years ago. I don't think the Newseum failed really on -- fundamentally as a museum. I think the subject matter was incredibly interesting. Obviously we're talking about the media, the press, which is incredibly important for working in the democratic society. You know, I think there's some challenges out there with respect to how people consume the news, for example and in terms of information technology having leveled the playing field in terms of knowledge acquisition if you will. And, you know, people can get news, can learn about the news and feel like, well, maybe that's all I really need to do. Why should I get up and make an effort and physically go visit a museum about this important establishment in our society, in our democratic world.

  • 12:04:30

    DIAZBut, you know, it's hard, a museum -- museum visitors are finicky people sometimes and you really have to offer them an engaging experience and offer them subject matter that they're just, you know, devout about almost. And, you know, I mean, you know, it's easier for me. I work at the Smithsonian. We're free, right?

  • 12:04:55

    NNAMDIAs I was about to say the Newseum charged admission, $25 for adults. You say you felt a little guilty that the Smithsonian does not charge. Do you think the price of admission was part of the Newseum's problem?

  • 12:05:06

    DIAZIt might. You know, listen. We're in D.C. and, you know, the Smithsonian is, you know, the big player, right, in many ways. And we're free. And we remove an obstacle to participation, right. And that's an enormous advantage. You know, a large junk of our budget comes from the federal government. And so we're in a privileged position to be quite frank about it. But that doesn't mean, however, that the Smithsonian can rest on its laurels and just assume, you know, 30 million visitors are going to come every year, which they typically do. You know, we have to think about diversifying our audience as well in creating a welcoming environment. That's an experience that's exciting, that's compelling. That draws audiences as well.

  • 12:06:00

    NNAMDIWell, the Smithsonian may appear to be free, but actually, I pay for it, I and the other millions of taxpayers in the United States.

  • 12:06:04

    DIAZExactly. And thank you.

  • 12:06:07

    NNAMDIDorothy Kosinski, let's talk about one of Washington's long standing private museums. For those who have never been to The Phillips Collection, what would they see there?

  • 12:06:17

    KOSINSKIThe Phillips Collection soon to be 100 years old in 2021 is America's first home for modern and contemporary art where the intimate meets the experimental. And, you know, that's really our mission statement. It's who we are and what we provide. It was Duncan Phillips's home originally. And I think that unique quality, the experience of our visitors is unlike the Smithsonian Institution or a huge civic museum. It offers a very up close and personal intimate conversation with great works of art.

  • 12:06:56

    NNAMDIIntimate being the operative word. How is it different, you feel, from most D.C. museums besides the intimacy?

  • 12:07:03

    KOSINSKIIt's a very personal collection in that it was not crafted by generations of museum directors and curators and donors, but rather shaped at its start by the taste and passion of Duncan Phillips and his wife, Marjorie. And we continue to collect to this day very actively. It's a very dynamic collection, but it is limited in its scope modern and contemporary 19th Century to yesterday. But it's quite -- our mission is quite clearly defined. And I think that that is also a very special quality.

  • 12:07:43

    NNAMDIDorothy, many people pointed to the Newseum's admission fees as a possible reason for its demise especially since the Smithsonian as we were saying earlier does not charge. But as director of a museum which does charge do you see a link between entrance fees and a museum's viability?

  • 12:07:59

    KOSINSKIWashington D.C. is a very unique special environment in so many ways. It is dominated by the federal government and our tax dollars as you rightly point out help provide these open access to so many great institutions. It would be very different if I were running The Phillips in Philadelphia or Buffalo, but that being said, I'm not sure that that's the be all and end all, the greatest challenge. I think that the engaging opportunities, the compelling stories, the access, the diverse and changing art and subjects that we tackle help bring people back again and again.

  • 12:08:49

    NNAMDIYou've also said that your location more than your admissions fee is a challenge. You're off Dupont Circle. Isn't that a great location?

  • 12:08:56

    KOSINSKII love the location. We are truly of and in D.C. in a way that being on the Mall can never provide. I hope that so many people from out of town come and see us, because it provides a totally different flavor of what the city is like in that there are real people who live here. But I sometimes joke that I should commandeer a bus, which would circle the Mall and bring people to Q and 21st or a good old fashion marketing technique of somebody with a sandwich board handing out member for a day passes. You have to make -- you have to be aware of us, and then I assure you, you'll come back again and again.

  • 12:09:42

    NNAMDIIn a little more than a year The Phillips Collection will turn 100. What's the secret to this longevity?

  • 12:09:49

    KOSINSKIQuality. I think also being sober and realistic about cost. People underestimate so vastly how challenging it is to run in perpetuity a cultural institution. So we're very cautious in -- I like to offer my balance budget to my trustees. They are so generous and intelligent and engaged. I take that responsibility seriously. So it's balancing the risk taking with challenging dynamic shows and art, but making sure that you don't get out ahead of your skis as they say.

  • 12:10:28

    NNAMDIWell, you call The Phillips Collection savvy about the risks you take. This summer you mounted an exhibit that you say none of your sister institutions would have touched. What was it? And why do you think no one else would have touched it?

  • 12:10:39

    KOSINSKIWell, the subject of the show, of the title, was the Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement. That sort of explains a lot. I think it would have been hard perhaps -- I mean, I don't want to put words in my colleagues' mouths. But we're not supported by federal money. So we had this opportunity. It came very late in scheduling. It was three floors. It was hugely challenging technically and financially, but we really take seriously our -- that we're value centric.

  • 12:11:16

    KOSINSKIAnd the issue of migration as you know, Kojo, is part of our DNA because we have Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series. It's a touchstone of so much of our work. And this brought it up to today and demonstrated with such poignancy how we are -- potentially each one of us is affected, was, will be, by poverty, climate change, war, economic factors. It was a big challenge and I have to say my staff, my trustees and I -- I don't know if we've ever been prouder of undertaking such a challenging project.

  • 12:11:55

    NNAMDIThe Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement. Of course, the "Warmth of Other Suns" originally was a Richard Wright phrase.

  • 12:12:01

    KOSINSKICorrect.

  • 12:12:02

    NNAMDIAnd then it was used by Isabel Wilkerson in her book of the same name. Isabel Wilkerson attended Roosevelt High School in D.C. and Howard University. So it's in many ways a local story also.

  • 12:12:12

    KOSINSKITrue.

  • 12:12:13

    NNAMDIPatty, you're helping to open a new museum in Washington. Tell us about Planet Word.

  • 12:12:17

    SABEEYes and Planet Word will be opening on May 31st 2020. So as a brand new museum, congratulations to you Dorothy on 100 years. That's really exciting and very inspirational for us. Planet Word is a museum with a mission to renew and inspire a love of words and language. And because it doesn't have a collection it does this work through immersive experiences, fun, social, emotionally engaging experiences with words and language.

  • 12:12:49

    NNAMDIWhere is Planet Word and when will it open?

  • 12:12:52

    SABEEPlanet Word is housed in the National Historic Landmark Franklin School on 14th and K.

  • 12:12:59

    NNAMDIWhy did Planet Word pick the Franklin School?

  • 12:13:04

    SABEEWhat a wonderful opportunity to carry the thread of an institution that's had such phenomenal public service. So it opened 150 years ago as the first comprehensive free universal public education in the District. And so to carry forward its legacy in serving the public through 150 years to this cultural and educational use is thrilling for us. There's another historic designation that the school has besides the architecture by Adolf Cluss. And that is that in 1880 Alexander Graham Bell sent the very first message via light over photo phone to Watson. And it was obviously the precursor to fiber optics. He knew it was his most important invention. Just didn't see it realized. And so the thread of communication and education and public good is such a natural home for Planet Word.

  • 12:14:01

    NNAMDIWhy build a museum about language?

  • 12:14:04

    SABEESo we are all born curators of words from the day that we're born. This is our founder, Ann Friedman. She was a public school teacher in Montgomery County and her love of reading and words and language and desire to see the value and the experience that people have in becoming more aware of their use of words, of the fun and the beauty and the power of words and the empathy that that builds and the awareness of a relationship with others and the superpowers we have within our use was a mighty and wonderful vision for a museum.

  • 12:14:49

    NNAMDINatasha from D.C. couldn't stay on the line, but wanted to say, the closing of the Newseum feels like a symbol of people's declining appreciation for facts and the news media. It's a sad commentary on the state of the country. Would you agree Eduardo Diaz?

  • 12:15:03

    DIAZYeah, you know, I was going to add that. I think there's been such a vilification, right, of the media recently. In a way that maybe discourages, scares people away and creates an environment of I really don't care in the subject matter. That's the media -- yeah, it's created an unwelcome environment and a hostile environment relative to the media. I mean, you see it, right? So maybe that has also contributed to a lack of interest and lack of support for an institution that's all about that.

  • 12:15:42

    NNAMDIHere's Claude in Washington D.C. Claude, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:47

    CLAUDEHi there. Happy Holidays everyone. So I grew up in D.C. And I grew up going to museums. Oddly enough a young man in high school my buddies and I would go down there on the weekends. We thought it was an awesome place to innocently pick up young ladies. I'll be quite frank. And we just loved it. So I grew up going to the museums. And now I have three sons who are young, nine is the oldest. And we go, I don't know every two weeks. We'll go down there. I mean, it's a great way for them to get out and run around. But I'm one of those guys, as Kojo asks, I'm one of those guys who refuse to go to any paying museum in D.C., because Smithsonian was there. Just categorically it almost is like an offense to me. Even though I went to a college in New York and I'm used to the suggested payment methodology.

  • 12:16:41

    NNAMDIDid something change your mind?

  • 12:16:43

    CLAUDEYeah, so here it goes. So I went to Chicago like three months ago and my whole world is upended on the museums, because I went to the Field Museum. And their museum just blows our Natural History Museum out the water in terms of what you see. It's like you're walking through a zoo. And I'm wondering would D.C. benefit from a pay to play -- would we get better quality museums, more interactive, less passive if we had a pay to play. And since D.C. is changing all around us, you know, maybe that's something we should look into.

  • 12:17:19

    NNAMDII don't know. Dorothy Kosinski, what say you?

  • 12:17:23

    KOSINSKIWell, there's a lot in that question. You know, our admission price is $12, $10 for students and seniors. Free for anybody under 18. And in fact, I think nobody knows this. But Tuesdays through Friday, anybody can walk in and see the permanent collection always for free. You know, it's a value proposition. We work hard to offer, you know, a really valuable experience. And, you know, that money that most of our budget comes from major gifts from trustees and donors. We have over 10,000 members. You know, I have to say that's one thing. I'm not sure why we're so generous, but you can become an individual member for $60 a year.

  • 12:18:20

    KOSINSKIYou get in free all the time. Plus a whole bushel basket of other perks. That's such a steal, but, you know, we have -- I have 100 part-time, 70 full-time staff. People who are part of the creative economy and they have families and, you know, schools to provide for. I think it's just -- I'm passionate clearly about the arts and culture. So for me that's such a modest investment in, you know, something that is absolutely vital to our --

  • 12:18:58

    NNAMDIThat can enrich your life.

  • 12:18:59

    KOSINSKIYes.

  • 12:19:00

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation on museums and their survival. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:19:59

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about museum survival in Washington with Dorothy Kosinski, Director of The Phillips Collection. Eduardo Diaz is Director of the Smithsonian Latino Center. Jackie Fishman is a Freelance Writer and a Docent at The Newseum. And Patricia Isacson Sabee is the Executive Director of Planet Word. Patty, when we broke we were talking about funding. Who is funding Planet Word?

  • 12:20:21

    SABEESo the major funder of the renovation and restoration of the Franklin School to be a home of Planet Word is our Founder Ann Friedman, which is an incredible gift to the city and to the museum. We are fundraising on a national basis for the museum exhibits and the museum lease hold on improvements in the school. And so we have a board of 31 members now who are actively engaged with us in building this community engagement and participation in this.

  • 12:20:54

    NNAMDIYou're not charging admission it is my understanding. How was that decided?

  • 12:20:58

    SABEEIt was for two reasons really or many reasons, but a lot of it is about honoring the legacy of the building and the school that we're in and the access to free learning. And we also well know that often it isn't admission that's a barrier to people's engagement in museums. It isn't necessarily ticket that's going to keep them. There are a lot of things competing for people's time and attention. So we as museums have to be extraordinarily attentive to being relevant, meaningful and inclusive and engaging and fun so that we have people come join us.

  • 12:21:35

    NNAMDIGlad you mentioned fun, because it's my understanding that I should be prepared for puns when I ask what's on the menu of the Planet Word Café?

  • 12:21:44

    SABEEYou're not kidding. We're looking for a restaurant operator, who will join us in having word play on the menu. So you can have your chocolate milk-Shakespeare or your Guten-burger as our Founder likes to say, and our favorite is synonym buns.

  • 12:22:01

    NNAMDISynonym buns. You can join the conversation. Give us a call 800-433-8850. What do you think is missing from the Washington museum scene? You can also us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Eduardo, you're also preparing for a museum opening. A sort of museum within a museum for the Smithsonian Latino Center, but first what is the Latino Center?

  • 12:22:24

    DIAZThe Latino Center was established in 1997. And when somebody asks me what my job is my job is to transform the Smithsonian into a Latino serving institution. So we support -- and it's about the U.S. Latino experience not about Latin America per say. We support research exhibitions, collections, public and educational programs, publications, digital or web content. And it's all -- it's in the arts. It's in the sciences. It's in history. The Smithsonian is a science institution. People forget about that as well aside from all of the work that it does in the arts, culture and history. So that is our job. And so we support many projects, many curators, many archivists around the institution.

  • 12:23:14

    DIAZThere are 19 museums within the Smithsonian, nine research centers. Of course, we operate also the zoo, as well. The Conservation Biology Institute, the Tropical Research Institute in Panama, the Smithsonian in Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts affiliated with Harvard University so it's a big one.

  • 12:23:34

    NNAMDIThough, the Latino Center does not have a physical space of its own on the National Mall, it will. What's in the works?

  • 12:23:41

    DIAZWe will. We are opening the Molina Family Latino Gallery in the fall of 2021 at the National Museum of American History. This will be a 4,500-square-foot space in which we will tell the very interesting, complicated and fun aspects of our history, the contributions that Latinos have made in nation-building and shaping national culture. So, it's a very exciting proposition for us. This will be the first physical presence representing this very diverse community and all of the contributions that we have made over the years, the many years.

  • 12:24:20

    NNAMDIHow much have you had to fundraise to make this possible? Tell us about the family that made a critical donation.

  • 12:24:25

    DIAZ(overlapping) Sure. The name of the family -- well, the name of the gallery is the Molina Family. This is C. David Molina. C. David Molina was born a Mexican immigrant family in Yuma, Arizona, right on the border with Mexico. He became a teacher. He married another teacher. They went to Long Beach, California. He decided to become a doctor.

  • 12:24:43

    DIAZHe was a general practitioner in emergency medicine, noticed that a lot of people were coming into the emergency room who really didn't have emergencies, but had no primary care doctor to see. So, he had an idea of opening a clinic. These were mostly, obviously, indigent people, a lot of them Latinos and African Americans. And he decided to open a clinic.

  • 12:25:02

    DIAZHe didn't have an easy time of that, because while he was a doctor, he was also a Mexican, and he had a difficult time getting bank financing. But he finally got it. So, he opened a clinic. That led to another clinic. That led to a half a dozen clinics. That led to 12 clinics. That led to 24 clinics, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And then became Molina Healthcare, which was a -- or is a Fortune 500 company.

  • 12:25:25

    DIAZHe had five children: two doctors, an architect, a lawyer and someone working in arts and education in Long Beach. And we were able to build a relationship with the family and convince them to sponsor or be the lead donor -- donors, I should say. They each gave $2 million. Five times two is 10. So, that's a $10 million gift that really launched our efforts. We are now closing in on $16 million in fundraising for the project.

  • 12:25:54

    NNAMDI(overlapping) What's the first show going to be about?

  • 12:25:56

    DIAZIt is called “Presente: A Latino History of the United States.” Presente means present, obviously, in English. And it is, basically, I would call it -- let's call it Latino 101. It's really an opportunity to introduce the contributions of the Latino community historically and culturally over these many years. We have to recognize that if you look at the statistics -- I happen to be on the board of the American Alliance of Museums, so, you know, I want to be transparent about that, as well. And, you know, we've seen the statistics, and we know that less than 10 percent of museum visitors are people of color. So, we have a big challenge here.

  • 12:26:32

    DIAZSo, what I'm getting to is that the majority of the visitors that will come to our gallery may not know very much about us. It may be, you know, John and Mary from...

  • 12:26:42

    NNAMDIIs that why you have a learning lounge?

  • 12:26:44

    DIAZYeah, we have a learning lounge. We built it into the gallery, which is a very interesting concept. We're doing some experimenting, here, with this gallery. We've also made a very sound commitment to accessibility. We want to make sure that the space is as accessible to those who have physical, sensory and cognitive or brain-based difficulties or limitations.

  • 12:27:04

    DIAZAnd so while the visitor is there, we want to create an intergenerational learning opportunity in the gallery, so that they don't have to go outside of the gallery for educational experiences, although we have complete access to the educational facilities at the National Museum of American History. Our colleagues have been very generous in that regard, and cooperative. But we're trying to create a different kind of experience.

  • 12:27:28

    DIAZSo, in this gallery, we really have to tell a foundational story about who we are, because many will not know much about us and what our contributions have been, historically and culturally. So, it's a big challenge, because we're a very diverse community as well.

  • 12:27:41

    NNAMDIPatty, like the Molina Center, Planet Word is also designed so that visitors are not just looking at objects, but interacting with exhibits. Why is this important, and how are you doing it?

  • 12:27:52

    SABEEThis is important, because we are a words and language museum. And using your voice to activate your experiences is a key part of what will happen at Planet Word. You may step up to a 22-foot-high, 48-foot-wide wall of three dimensional words that will tell you stories about the development of the English language. As you speak to it, it will talk back to you.

  • 12:28:21

    SABEEWe're also keenly aware of being in a city with a university like Gallaudet, who has incredible ways of ensuring that there is access also for this kind of wonderful interactive experience for their community, our deaf community. And Planet Word will be equally accessible there.

  • 12:28:39

    NNAMDIHere now is Elizabeth Mert, who is the director of the Center for the Future of Museums at the National Alliance of Museums. Elizabeth Mert, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:28:49

    ELIZABETH MERTHello, Kojo. Thank you so much for taking my call. I've had the pleasure of being on your show in the past.

  • 12:28:53

    NNAMDIYou have, indeed. The pleasure was mine, actually, but go ahead. (laugh)

  • 12:28:57

    MERTWell, thank you. So, I've been doing a lot of research for the American Alliance of Museums about where museums get their money. And I just wanted to weigh in on the importance of generous donors like Mr. Molina and Ann Freedman, because many cities have museums that can offer free admission right next to excellent museums which don't have the government or private support they need to go free.

  • 12:29:19

    MERTTwo-thirds of museums rely on admission revenue for part of their operating support. Most museums get less than 20 percent of their operating support from a government entity. And over a quarter of them rely on private donors for some of their funding -- I'm sorry, rely on private donors for over a quarter of their funding. I think the challenge for all of us is how could government and private philanthropists and corporate sponsors work together to provide the kind of support that would enable all museums to be free? That's the kind of future I would really like to work towards.

  • 12:29:51

    NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. We got an email from someone who said: growing up in D.C., most of my museum and zoo exposure was with the Smithsonian. I remember when I was on vacation with my family, when we went to a museum that charged for tickets. My reaction was: what kind of museum charges for access? Now, as an adult, I realize that museums are expensive to operate and can't all be the Smithsonian. Well, thank you very much for growing up. (laugh)

  • 12:30:18

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. How do you try to support your favorite Washington area museum? 800-433-8850. Jackie, you have helped thousands of people engage with the museum. Tell us about some of the more memorable people that you have led on tours.

  • 12:30:36

    JACKIE FISHMANSure. One of the groups that I've had the pleasure and privilege to lead was a group of school kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Parkland School, and as well as leading them with their journalism teacher, Sarah Lerner. Actually, I shared that honor with another guide. And it was very moving to take them through the Newseum and talk to them about the five freedoms of the First Amendment, which is really the five freedoms that we focus on, as well as freedom of the press. So, all five freedoms, and that is definitely what the tour is about. And just engage with them and talk to them. So, that was really a very wonderful experience.

  • 12:31:24

    JACKIE FISHMANI've also had experiences with groups of adults who have walked through the halls and learned things that they thought they knew, but learned new facts that they didn't know. It's always fascinating to take people through, also, the civil rights exhibit, which is called “Make Some Noise,” and talk about the fascinating interplay between the rise of the television news shows in the early '60s and the civil rights movement. And, of course, the famous quote that John Lewis gave, which is that the civil rights movement would be “a bird without wings” without that. But taking these groups through it's always interesting to see their reactions and see, you know, how they're re-experiencing history and, in some cases, seeing it for the first time.

  • 12:32:13

    NNAMDIYou also, it's my understanding, had an interesting interaction with a Saudi Diplomat.

  • 12:32:17

    FISHMANYes, I did. He actually -- after the tour was over, he was expressing dismay at the fact that the Newseum was closing. And he said, well, perhaps we can arrange something with some Saudi businessmen that I know. But perhaps you would then consider looking differently at the way freedom of the press works in Saudi Arabia. So...

  • 12:32:43

    NNAMDIThat's a quid pro quo, if you're looking for one.

  • 12:32:45

    FISHMANYes. I thanked him profusely, but, yes.

  • 12:32:48

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. Still taking your calls. What was your experience of the Newseum? Are you sorry to see it go? 800-433-8850. How do you feel about paying for museums in a town where most of them are free? What museums do you take friends visiting out of town to see? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:33:31

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about museums in Washington and how they survive with Dorothy Kosinski, director of the Phillips Collection. Eduardo Diaz is director of the Smithsonian Latino Center. Jackie Fishman is a freelance writer and the docent at the Newseum. And Patricia Isacson Sabee is the executive director of Planet Word. Patty, tell us about some of the exhibits now under construction for Planet Word.

  • 12:33:54

    SABEEOne of the exhibits that we have in our great hall is called the Spoken World, and that tells the story of 31 language families from around the world. And we have ambassadors who engage visitors in language stories. When visitors do react and speak some of the phrases that they've learned or talk about some of the things that they've heard the ambassador say, a giant globe in the room will illuminate, showing something about the phrase or capturing some of the emotion of what they just spoke about. An exciting thing for us is to have local D.C. residents represented in that gallery and some of our other galleries as language ambassadors.

  • 12:34:44

    NNAMDIIs this a kid's museum?

  • 12:34:46

    SABEEThis is a museum for families. It's a general audience museum. We often find that people grow up to be culture consumers when they have these wonderful experiences with their family.

  • 12:34:57

    NNAMDIEduardo, for years, proponents of a freestanding Latino museum within the Smithsonian have tried and failed to get congressional approval. Why is it important for the Smithsonian Latino Center to have dedicated physical space?

  • 12:35:12

    DIAZI think, you know, the contributions -- you now, we're foundational. We're a foundational culture to this country in so many ways, in so many diverse ways. And, you know, I think the Latino community deserves a museum. As you say, the efforts to establish the museum have not gone very far in Congress and, frankly, that's one of the motivations for us to establish this gallery. That could evolve later. Who knows? So, that's a political decision. It's about the politics, the value and worth, as we all know.

  • 12:35:48

    DIAZAnd, you know, we're going forward to, you might say, plant the flag at the National Museum of American History, much in the same way that the National Museum of African American History and Culture started out as a gallery space in the same museum at American History, before it moved into its magnificent space. The challenge there -- or the difference is, I should say -- is that they had legislation, you know, that was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, the second Bush.

  • 12:36:17

    DIAZAnd, you know, Latino museum effort has not gotten very far in Congress. So, rather than wait, we decided to move forward -- largely funded through private funds -- with this gallery effort.

  • 12:36:31

    NNAMDIPatty, you have said that you think every city should have a Planet Word Museum, but that it's fitting that it should be opening here in Washington. Why?

  • 12:36:39

    SABEEBecause of the words that are the bedrock of this city. So, people come to Washington to see the monuments that are here and the words that govern the birth of our democracy. The documents are here that set us up. When people have this chance to see these words and understand what they have to lose, it's a wonderful time to come to Planet Word and understand the value of illiterate population as the foundation of the strong modern democracy and the value of the power and beauty of words.

  • 12:37:12

    NNAMDIWhat proportion of your visitors do you expect to be area residents, verses tourists?

  • 12:37:18

    SABEEWell, we're hoping for a wonderful mix of both. And, often, what happens are that the local people are who bring the tourists to the museum. So, the key is really to engage our local community.

  • 12:37:29

    NNAMDISame question to you, Dorothy. Who is your audience?

  • 12:37:33

    KOSINSKII think it's seven out of 10 people are local, but more than anecdotally, you know, I know that people, when they have visitors, they come to the Phillips Collection. Which we're proud of that, that, you know, they want to come again and again.

  • 12:37:48

    NNAMDISame question to you Eduardo. Who's your audience?

  • 12:37:52

    DIAZWow. I would say, at the Smithsonian, it's so varied. I mean, we have a very interesting mix of the locals, obviously, but so many tourists, nationally and internationally. And that international challenge is actually -- you talk about language or words, I mean, we're struggling now -- you know, the United States, by some demographers, is the third-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, right, after Mexico and probably Spain. And so the question is: should we be presenting our materials in a bilingual fashion, at least? In Spanish, as well.

  • 12:38:29

    DIAZAnd, you know, it's because so many of our visitors are Spanish-speaking, are either not nationals, people who live in the country or people coming from countries that speak Spanish. So, you know, it's an interesting mix. You know, since we don't charge, it's very difficult for us to get demographic information, right. You've got the guard at the exit clicking, right, but he's not asking or she's not asking, you know, who are you, where are you from, whatever. And so it's difficult for the Smithsonian to monitor or get real good statistics relative to the makeup of our visitor.

  • 12:39:07

    DIAZBut just from exit interviews and, you know, people that go and sort of intercept, you know, the visitor onsite, you know, we're able to get some idea. So, it's a very interesting mix.

  • 12:39:19

    NNAMDIRegarding the Phillips Collection, it's clearly a local favorite, but what about community outreach at the Phillips Collection? How does it connect to local people?

  • 12:39:27

    KOSINSKIA lot. A lot. It means a lot to us. You know, I think you know, Kojo, I have a big DEAI initiative with a dynamic chief diversity officer in Makeba Clay. We have a space on the campus of THEARC in Ward 8. We've worked in so many DCPS, the school system. You know, a hallmark of our work all the time are partnerships -- I should say also, with our friends and colleagues at the Smithsonian and the National Gallery, but, you know, Step Afrika, Wolf Trap, Dog Tag Bakery, recently, about an art wellness and veterans program, Refugees International.

  • 12:39:27

    KOSINSKIPlus, Maryland State Senator Will Smith from Montgomery County has been selected to lead the state senate's high profile judicial committee. What will he make a priority in the upcoming legislative session? That all starts tomorrow, at noon, on The Politics Hour. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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