Via The Washington Post, March 24, 2021
“Like museums around the world, the Smithsonian is preparing to reopen in a landscape fraught with uncertainty.
Its leaders worry about whether visitors will return in person whenever the phased restart commences — no dates have yet been announced — and whether the gains in virtual audiences made during the coronavirus pandemic can be maintained. As they improvise with safety protocols and capacity increases over the next six to 18 months, they must also address calls for social justice, diversity and equity that continue to reverberate in their field.
But the Smithsonian has another major hurdle to overcome: The massive complex of art, history and science museums is missing leaders of four of its sites, including the high-profile and popular National Air and Space Museum. This month, Air and Space Director Ellen Stofan left the job she held for three years to become Smithsonian undersecretary for science and research.
With the authorization of two new museums in December, the Smithsonian is also seeking founding directors for the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum. Those executives will be charged with building staff, collections and a physical space from scratch.
The institution has never searched for six directors simultaneously — although it has never had to develop two new museums at once, either. The absences come at a jarring time, when normal operations are in flux and finances are strained. The Smithsonian stopped disclosing salaries in 2019, but its museum directors earn up to $446,000, according to its tax filings. They set the tone for their institutions and influence everything from exhibitions and public programs to budget, hiring and collecting practices.
The openings also represent a giant opportunity because they may push the Smithsonian to adapt to new demands, better reflect the diversity of the nation and embrace the institution’s shifting mission of helping Americans grapple with social issues and current events.”