Smithsonian Update

A message from Secretary Lonnie Bunch

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

During this challenging time, I hope you and your loved ones are taking all precautions necessary to stay safe and healthy. I have been heartened by the dedication and creativity of my Smithsonian colleagues and by the expression of support that I have received from so many that buoys us during the pandemic. Many of you have asked what the Smithsonian is doing to serve the American people while closed and when we may open again.

Let me start with the second question first: the Smithsonian is actively planning for the time when our museums can open again and we can begin returning to work so we can better serve the American people. We have two task forces and a COVID-19 response team working to identify how we can gradually open, guided foremost by the safety and health of our employees and the general public.

Our re-opening strategy will be based on a combination of factors, including local and federal health guidance, sound science, and public health data in the localities where we work. It will be accomplished in phases, allowing us to open our doors to our staff, and eventually the public, in a way that reduces risk and protects our most vulnerable employees and visitors. We look forward to engaging and inspiring the public at our physical locations, but in the meantime, we continue to serve using our digital resources.

Our museum directors and curators recognize the historic nature of the time we are living through. That is why we are collecting a contemporary record of events as they unfold in real time. While they cannot make contact as they traditionally would, our curators have reached out to various groups to ask them to set aside objects that will explain to future generations what life is like navigating a global pandemic. One such set of objects is personal to me, as they will be coming from my daughter, who has seen the effects of this virus up close as an emergency room doctor.

And in a short period of time, we have ramped up our commitment to and access of a wide array of our virtual assets, educational tools, and digital platforms. The Smithsonian is helping people navigate distance learning, reintroducing our nation’s most revered treasures, and inviting everyone to rediscover the wonder of history, culture, the arts, and the sciences. Our curators, scientists, and experts continue to offer their knowledge, expertise, and insights. They have found new ways to engage with visitors and introduce them to exhibits and collections. We have collected a wide array of these resources on Smithsonian Cares.

Some of the educational tools and resources you can find there include Learning Lab, our site that allows educators, parents, and students to access high-quality learning resources and interactive tools to create lesson plans. As a long-time educator, I have spent a great deal of time exploring these remarkable resources the past few weeks. The Smithsonian Open Access platform allows people to download, create, and reuse nearly 3 million 2D and 3D digital items from Smithsonian collections. Sidedoor, our Webby-nominated podcast, tells unique behind-the-scenes Smithsonian stories.

Today, we continue to do what we have done for nearly 175 years by providing context, new knowledge, insight, confidence, comfort, and support through sharing the trusted expertise of the Smithsonian.

This crisis will change cultural institutions, to say nothing of the country. The economic aftereffects will undoubtedly be felt for a long time. But so much gives me confidence about the future, not only because of the incredible resilience we have as a nation, but also because of the wealth of talented and dedicated people we have at the Smithsonian. I am confident that we will use this time to rethink the ways we do things to create a better experience for all of you when things return to what will be the new normal.

During my career at the Smithsonian, I have always been struck by the outpouring of love and support people express for the Institution. The Smithsonian was conceived as a gift to the nation and since then, the American people have reciprocated, enabling so much of our activity. Now, during the nation’s time of great need, it is only fitting we do everything we can to return the support you continually show us by making our resources more accessible than ever.

Thanks so much to everyone who has reached out to offer your help during this crisis.

I look forward to the day when we can open the doors of our museums to all of you. In the meantime, we continue to be here for you digitally and virtually and will return in person stronger than ever. Stay safe and take care of one another.

Thank you,

Lonnie G. Bunch

Secretary of the Smithsonian