tv Future of the Smithsonian Institution CSPAN January 13, 2018 5:17pm-6:02pm EST
i know everybody has the capacity to seek the truth and to speak the truth and to stand on the truth and to stay with the truth. america needs truth tellers. america needs truth tellers, and we are the truth tellers they have been looking for. thank you for coming out tonight. i appreciate it. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer 1: on history bookshelf, here from the best-known american history writers of the past decade every saturday at 4:00 p.m. eastern. you can watch any of our programs anytime when you visit our website, c-span.org/history. you are watching "american history tv" all weekend every weekend on c-span3. "american history tv, smithsonian 2022, a five-year
plan to mark the 175th anniversary by expanding their reach in areas of research and education. they also discussed reaching one billion people a year through a variety of expanded additional arms are investment any an institution hosted this 42-minute event. my name is porter will consent. i am the chief of staff at the board of regents for the smithsonian institution. i would like to welcome you to building, and thank you for joining us for this short conversation about the future of the smithsonian. this event is also being live streamed on the smithsonian's si.edu, andedu -- on facebook live, so i would like to acknowledge our viewership. we will have leaders unveiled their bold vision for growing the institutions reach, relevance, and impact over the
next five years, leading up to the institution's 175th anniversary. the smithsonian is probably best known for its world-class museums, but today we hope to show you we are doing as much to shape the future as we are to preserve the past. at the end of the conversation, we will give you all an opportunity to ask questions. for those in the audience, we will pass around a handheld mic, and for those of you online, if you submit questions or comments at si.edu. this event is also the kickoff to the long conversation, a series of dialogues between leaders of the arts, humanities, and sciences, about ideas that make us optimistic for the future. we were excited to pair these two events because the long conversation illustrates how the smithsonian 2022 plan is going to work in the future.
i gathering people of all ages and backgrounds to plan, learn, and dream on a national and global scale. so both events capture our optimism about the future. we are at the smithsonian. whether you are talking to a curator about an exhibit or an educator about a new initiative, or a scholar about a recent discovery, you will see and hear stories of creativity, service, courage, and preservation. and today, all of our speakers will capture this basic institutional belief in the resilience and ingenuity of the american people and those all over the world. with that, i would like to welcome our short conversationalist to the stage.
thank you. >> very nice. hey, david. let me take the first question. you ran cornell university for eight years, and you dealt with alumni and donors and the order trustees. now you have been running the smithsonian for a number of years. which is easier, and what is more fun? [laughter] >> what a loaded question from my boss. as i'm sure you know of all people, david, one does not run cornell university or the smithsonian. one has to stay a step ahead of some of the personnel. but they are both terrific and
both terrific in the same way. organizations, people with creative individuals who get up in the morning and have a passion for teaching, discovering, sharing things with the public, and is the sort of an organism that is not really to but sort of persuaded continue to stay the course. we are in our 102nd he second year now at the smithsonian. year at the smithsonian. i have never been more optimistic. rep. desantis: david: let me ask you a follow-up. why does the smithsonian need a strategic plan? we have been doing this for so long, why do we need development for the future? >> that was an excellent question. i would say it was an a minus question, a minus because i said was told he would ask me one question. david: i am better at asking questions than answering them.
>> what was the question? david: why do we need a strategic plan? >> the only reason to have a strategic plan in a creative organization is the real work some of the terrific stuff is happening locally in laboratories and studios and other places, classrooms. the only reason to have it is the organization wants to make a slight turn. what has been a strong trajectory, and i believe we need to make a couple of turns. one turn we need to make is to realize that although we have 30 million visits last year on the mall and elsewhere in washington , and intilly, virginia to york city, we are here reach for beyond those who are fortunate enough to come across our threshold. so we need to begin to look outward and think even bigger than we have already thought about how our reach and
relevance can occur. that is one thing. , and it pains me to point this out on a very happy day, we are living in a time that is fragmented. it is difficult, in which people are grasping to find institutions, let alone individuals, whom they trust. and if you look at the polls, checking with the public about their levels of trust, many institutions in our society have plummeted in trust, but interestingly libraries and museums tend to be higher in the trust level. and given the assumption that the public does have trust in museums and libraries has honest brokers of information, and given the trust generations who go to work, people like kirk have done, to establish that trust in the smithsonian itself, i think we have the responsibility to try to convey
some difficult conversations in a safe setting where people can hear different points of view and perhaps look to find some common ground. so you want to ask a question? >> can i ask you? david: doris is a member of congress. as many may know, the system we have at the smithsonian is we have nine citizen regent and six congressional regions, and the supreme court justice is the chancellor. you are one of the three from the house of representatives. you are representing the democratic side. you previously represented the democratic side when it was majority, now is minority. to the great job in the majority and doing a great job in the minority. what do members of congress and? >> is a member of congress myself and talking about -- there is wide agreement. it doesn't always happen in congress, but we all love the
smithsonian. we love it because of the fact it is an institution that is honorable, has integrity, and it has a vast array of many specialties but in a sense coming together. i can't believe how many times members have come up to me and said how wonderful it is to have the smithsonian board of constituents as they come into town. it is wonderful to hear that, but i am going off of what david has said too. i was for it of the -- i was part of the first strategic plan. things like the mysteries of the university -- university the biodiversity of planets and rural cultures and what it means to be an american and the importance of arts and design, those are the kinds of things people look at, and when they look at the smithsonian today, even though members might come up to me and talk about air and
space, natural history, american history, they are talking about what can happen in the smithsonian. that is what we are trying to do with the next strategic plan. that is what kirk is doing here because you are part of this new strategic plan that pushes everything out, and i think it is wonderful because we have identified the challenges and the areas we want to work in. you are enjoying that. what we want to do it in this day and age in a digital capacity to attract more audiences and i think you are doing that. through andseum guy through. i went to the museum as a kid. there is a magic in museums. i talked to famous people. what inspired you? i was four years old and my mother took me to university and i saw the dinosaurs, a changed my life. -- took me to a museum and it changed my life.
i believe in the magic of museums and here when you see 25 million people a year in the museums -- but since i was born the population has doubled. now it is 7.5 billion people, and since i graduated from college, we had this sinkhole the digital revolution which is fundamentally changed our information. people not just going to museums but there is a two way conversation in the whole world. theenly it is not just nation that is our audience but the world. part of the plan is to go out for a billion individual unique people a year. you think that is crazy but it is not even that crazy. lots of companies have been formed in the last 20 years that usually reach a billion people a year, so why not the smithsonian? >> i left your telling us since you were in college so long ago, so many things have changed. for an elderly guy like you, i am curious -- do you still
believe the authentic object, that one might stand in front, is important, or are you suggesting we can blow that stuff up and put them on these devices and call it good? digitalhing about it is things have disrupted so many industries but museums have always been the place where our culture keeps loaded respect and admires the natural cultural world. we are the holders of our cultural icons. -- this beganing in the cultural enlightenment when people started collecting things and saying, there is interesting stuff. we are in this arts and industry building which opened in 1881. the first director of what was brown,. national museum, not only were things -- this is for the people. he was the new museum man, and he had the audience in the mix of the scholars.
well into the future, the last -- of the real thing. thing. >> you are an expert on dinosaurs, i think it is fair to say. >> somebody has to do it. >> people make fun of dinosaurs, of that lived on the earth for 200 million years. forns have only been around about 200,000 years. but we make it 200 million years? >> the last 50 years we've been the most consequential part of human existence on the planet. our population jumped from one billion to 7 billion. the next 200 million years, i think it's ambitious for us. i think typical mammal species last about one million years. will humans be living up there one million years on planet earth? >> what is the fascination people have with dinosaurs?
when was it realized by humans there were dinosaurs? >> the smithsonian was founded august 10, 1846. 40 years earlier the word "dinosaur" was coined. there has been a lot of great things. ofce 1995, the no number dinosaurs -- known number of dinosaurs has doubled. it is all sorts of living things preserved as fossils and the story of our planet is literally underground. >> yesterday it was revealed some dinosaur eggs were discovered in china. eggs. bones in these -- isate jurassic park? it possible to do a jurassic park? >> guys like me dream about stuff like that. we know dna is delicate and comes apart pretty fast. the oldest dna in the world is
probably much younger, on the order of 50,000 years. not 50 million years. but hope springs eternal. birds came from dinosaurs. might be able to back engineer a dinosaur. it will fall to us to rescue this conversation. talking about dinosaurs and things of the past. we are more modern, almost millennial spirit. what you laughing about, johnson? you have the perspective of having been there at the creation of the earlier strategic -- >> yes. >> i chose that were perfectly. one of the interesting things about that plan, among many interesting things, wasn't good enough is this on advertising nation of some of the coat -- ization of some of the collection. 145 million things are under the
purview of the museum of natural history. i know our professionals in the opposite works on digitizing ation have found 15 million things. we are our repast 3 million things. that never alone doesn't tell you everything. mark can be an important piece of paper in an archive, for one can be a scan of the entire apollo 11 capsule. with you perceived to be the progress and where we stand right now and that digitization progress? thectually what we have at smithsonian that's remarkable, family wanted to push it out to the world. we could not at that time. process at then natural history museum. now it's happening all over.
i think this is the excitement of it. we are pushing out things in a way where we can have conversations digitally. i think this is what we want to do here. talk about the universe, talking about the stars. was happening on this planet. sometimes it's a difficult conversation. it can be put together in a digital manner. we have so much information. -- a time where a kid doesn't go to google. they go to the smithsonian and understand this is the real deal. that is what is so important about the smithsonian. me -- it will be achievable because look at what is happening today with young people in particular. where do they get their information?
oft i love about the fact what we are doing is connecting them on their smart to the fact that is something that is real that exists here on the mall. that is important for young people, and the conversations you can have again people in a manner which maybe they don't have otherwise. >> this whole idea of being able to connect with the digitized audience. objects to get the information embedded in them. we have scanned over one million sheets this year. we are using computer learning to identify the family of plants on the sheets. imagine someone in south america snaps a picture of a tree. now they can access all botanical knowledge. where most of our food comes from. the is a connection between deep knowledge, and something you can't yet do on the web.
to get lots of information, but this deep knowledge in these buildings can be unleashed by digitization and technology. >> one of the headlines of the plan, which we are supposed to be talking about today, not necessarily how long humans will live and dinosaur eggs -- i do my best with these people. >> challenging. >> we are talking about greater impact. i think is a career long educator, there is nothing that is impact like education. you change a young or older person's life by an educational experience, and the ripple effects are massive. i wanted to point out two interesting things. on the one hand you want to reach out hugely, broadly and offer our stuff to people. one billion a year, so we can allow education to affect the broadest, broadest swath of
humanity possible. at the same time, as a nonprofit realizing we owe special effort to the community in which we live. we are also focusing on the city of washington. one of the subgoals is to reach in a meaningful way every k-12 student in the greater d.c. area. what is your thought about that piece of the plan? >> when i go around the country and talk to people about the smithsonian, the most frequent comment i get is, when i was a young kid i parents took me to the smithsonian. people often cry about the experience because they remember it so fondly. one of the things people remember is the smithsonian was free. free. thanks to congress we had money to do that. in the strategic plan there are a lot of ambitious things. isn't any desire for regular admission to the smithsonian
museums to do anything like charging admission? >>, live secretary. the generosity -- not while i am secretary. the generosity of congress has been terrific. during the great recession, thanks to the members to view positively the value of the smithsonian, we had nominal dollars which was a vote of confidence. and because lowering the threshold to access this collection is what we are all about. i think it is very important for us to continue to be free and open. and not only the museums themselves. i want to get back to the educational aspect. this the sony and scientific it --smithsonian science education center, an interesting entity that is less recognized in the beautiful museums. it was started in concert with the national academies, and freeops stem curriculum
and downloadable for k-12. some focus in the middle school range. it is downloaded by teachers at something like 1500 school districts in every state of the union and 20 other countries. i think it is very important for us not only to remain free crossing the threshold of the museum, but push our information out freely to the public. >> two thirds of our budget comes from roughly -- roughly from congress. where does the other one third come from? >> some come from generous people like yourself who support the smithsonian, king your case of many other entities on a philanthropic basis. we haven't able to astoundingly -- have been able to astoundingly accept philanthropic funds that i think is breathtaking. we don't have alumni in the usual sense. to my knowledge we don't have a varsity football team. i'm still learning new things about the smithsonian. no, it is just an extraordinary,
extraordinary amount of philanthropy. we have what i call generic retail. we have magazines, especially smithsonian magazine, and air and space. we have a record label that i'm hugely proud of that is so far earned seven grammy awards. if anybody here who like to call my office and be put on hold, you will listen to recorded music while on hold. i've heard some people call my office purposely when i will not be there so they can hear the music. >> you should have a keyboard in your office. you are learning how to play? >> on to the level of a two-year-old now, that i can recognize and define a keyboard. i can reach up and touch the keys. i have high hopes that it age three by the end of the calendar year. >> my mother thought i might have pno skills -- piano skills.
my teacher called my mother and said save your money, he has no skills. hat week the smithsonian and american ingenuity award dinner. david, i think you are at the dinner? what is the american ingenuity awards and why is the smithsonian doing this? >> is a great follow-on to the -- that is the sense of optimism. the sense that with all the issues in the world -- you get up in the morning and don't know what to say about what happening. still, people are optimistic. the idea of the awards as i interpret them is that if you identify and celebrate people, young people, older people, even dinosaurs who have been able to do things, think things, imagine things the rest of us have not
-- my wife likes a call at the basis of curiosity, the basic engine of creativity. the smithsonian magazine leadership, the editor-in-chief decided to celebrate that by having an award ceremony in which different categories of endeavor would be celebrated. this theory event were having today is part of the smithsonian ingenuity festival, which included the ingenuity awards the other night. this was a very humbling experience. it was a 12-year-old lady who decided to develop a nonprofit effort, not an incorporated nonprofit, to bring books to underserved young ladies. she originally fitted with the it, is with a 1000 and already past the 10,000 mark. all the way to a neurosurgeon who has been able to implant
stem cells in the brains of people who had a stroke and recovered function. i've never would have imagined it could have been possible. john legend as a performer and other things. it is a way of recognizing that optimism can be realized, dreams can be realized. why not celebrate them through the smithsonian. that is really the whole point of the plan, to frame the tools to think about a positive future. once you frame a positive future, it is easier to make your way to that future. >> it recognizes innovation. the various aspects of it, using or science -- using or science -- music or science. vision is not separate museums. it is all these things put together in a collaboration. you see it demonstrated and you realize smithsonian is not only a place, but it's an idea.
we take it to a different place all the time. that is why i think one of the people talked about education, about the public access to the smithsonian. you realize that is what it is all about. that is what i believe it should be free. it is important in this country that we establish ourselves as being different because we have public education. smithsonian is part of that. that process, i believe is important because we bring people. people come here from all over the country and all over the world. when they encounter the fact it can just walk into the museum, that is so startling. -- wee fact this country are really an open country. it demonstrates that very well. >> i want to put you on the spot, mr. director. wearing your hat as cochair of the strategic planning committee, i have to say you are
one of the people very much responsible for bringing us here today and a fabulous process. these goals in general are macyting, aspirational, take a deep breath and make you think there is a future. theg to get a goal seven, least sexy goal imaginable. not one smithsonian, reaching a billion people, that having a nimble and responsive administrative structure. i am curious. where did that come from? why is it a major headline at the strategic land? -- plan? >> figure out of my personal while wee, and spoke to the staff about how they can do their jobs better. i came from a medium-sized regional museum in denver. i was leading a museum that was nimble. we worked at a team that can do incredible things quickly. i thought i will go to the smithsonian, light becoming the
captain of an aircraft carrier. the thing about aircraft carriers is they turned slowly. but if you can make a big thing with fast, you can do incredible things. smithsonian has this tremendous potential. fromisiting a friend france who said our government is wrapped in museums. the potential upside of the smithsonian is it can be so amazing. that is for me, a nibble smithsonian is amazing -- nimble smithsonian is amazing. >> i would like to ask david another plan since i have you on the ropes. goalhas to do with the that sets out the idea we are going to understand 21st century audiences in a new and different way. you oversee the second-most visited museum in the country,
and last year's second-most visited museum in the world. no one on this panel perhaps is as qualified to talk about the audiences as you are. what does that gold mean about understanding and profiting from a better understanding of so-called 21st century audiences? >> there are two things. free admission is a double-edged sword. there is no demographic knife. but we don't interact with them. they are not going through a pay point or a checkpoint. we don't understand our visitors as well as a traditional museum might. that has long been a situation for the smithsonian. something happened not that long ago, around the turn of the century most of the population was born digital. you watch little babies on iphones and said i cannot imagine a baby being on an iphone, but they are on an iphone. imagine that baby in 40 years. --ic information different
they take in information different than the way you and i take in information. they are digital, talkback audiences, have different priorities. here we are. we have changed through time but we have to pivot rapidly. the audiences have already done that and they are ready to talk back to us. >> i think digitizatoin is important because we have to show people we are living with current times. there is nothing quite like going to a museum and seeing the personal artifacts and the historic artifacts most typified recently by the african-american history and cultural museum. that museum, which was a joint venture between the private sector and the government cost $540 million. $270 million came from the private sector, to hundred $70 million from the government. it was very emotional for people. surely jackson represented the
smithsonian at the opening. season african-american who went to school in the city when it was segregated. the first woman to get a phd in physics from m.i.t.. she represented us in a very emotional speech. president obama was there and president obama was there and president george w. bush was there showing the smithsonian is nonpartisan. when people have gone into that museum they see up close the artifacts and the history of slavery and other things. tears come to the eyes of so many people. the average person going out and spending 6.5 hours in their first visit and coming back for more visits. it shows you well digitiza tion is important, there is nothing like seeing things up close. >> i agree. it is a great segue to give a chance for our audience, both here and in virtual to assess questions.
theyvery polite way, slapped these questions in my hand as a way of shutting me up and moving on to the next phase. let me first ask if it does anybody in the audience with us who would like to ask a question. i have some ones from online here as well. i want to give the folks who were here a question, a chance to ask a question. if there's somebody here? sure to give me pop flies in the line drives to mr. rubenstein. >> my question is, is there a unified strategy for engaging these younger people and a digital sphere that goes across all the different properties, or is each museum designing their own engagement strategy? >> can i take a whack at this? this is one of the real delicate things about a creative --
various if i can use that word, organization. you can't just pound the table and say everyone will do everything in lockstep exactly the same way. by the same token you want to avoid a situation over spending ning ourls -- spin wheels. but we will be counting on is a partnership of an even better type to follow the comments about turning an aircraft carrier, in which we will turn the aircraft. better, more quickly, and stay on a truer course by getting our heads together between good ideas and the individual organizations, and some larger view of what might be possible. it is neither a nor b. it is a combination. >> like we have done at the natural history museum, the engaging of teenagers and kids in the process because they are
the audience we are trying to reach. your council of students does a pretty good job of that. educating you about what it's like to be a 13-year-old in 2017. --just for those not appear, up here, the council is something our mayor and her office helped us set up. is a youth advisory council. to me we have multiple youth programs, one of the finest ones is natural history. these people give us their advice. and interesting thing about high school students as they don't have that many are of serialization -- the nea -- veneer of civilization. asks,e watching from afar does any goal stand up to you as
the most important one for the smithsonian to accomplish? >> i think the smithsonian set an ambitious goal of trying to have one billion contacts, one billion human contacts a year. havemeans we have to contacts of people beyond those in the united dates. -- united states. tothsonian was designed diffuse knowledge in the united states. it was a gift from mr. james smithson. as it has become so well known, people look to us to be leaders in museum and research activities. one of the major things out of the strategic plan is to make certain people around the rest of the world see the benefits of what we have here and hopefully they will integrate with us and some ways, and 80 museums and others will be better for their association with the smithsonian . we are the envy of a museum world and we want to continue to do that, but also make certain people around the world have a chance either visit here or see
online the things we have. >> thank you. i was going to share this one, maybe go back and forth between online and here. here is a tough one i would like to try to answer myself and then i would appreciate everyone else jumping in. someone asks, you see the public and surety to the plan in any way, and if so, how? creative organizations like this one are made up of people who are brought in because they are experts in some field. a curator, a scientist, an art historian. the idea is that person is special depth of knowledge in some area. on the other hand, i think it would not be a good thing for the foreseeable future for us to continue to think we have all the answers and we know what the public "needs to see." there is an emphasis in the plan in that part of the goal of
understanding 21st century audiences, to reach out and learn from our audiences. not only in the sense of seeing how they vote with their feet by what they see, but give their reactions to exhibitions, installations. we do get reactions without asking for it. some aspects of the smithsonian asked for directly. we learn about it from our critics. it is helpful we have critics to tell us how they think we are doing. i think it is very important we find again, like the ballot from that gentleman's question, a balance between allowing experts to follow their proclivities without political interference on the one hand, but not being an ivory tower on the other hand and allowing the public to be able to modify what we do to some extent. think you would be
beginning that process anyway. you have your own particular process. we are inviting people to engage with us. i think that's a different situation than having just a museum and having people come through and look at things. i think the smithsonian is great because we need to be engaging, especially as we move forward. having conversations. that is part of it. we will be able to, i believe, have some tough conversations here. as i think you said and david there arehis world very few trusted institutions now. is,smithsonian is, museum like the library's are -- libraries are. we can have open conversations here and online, and have ideas come forward.
we are not a closed institution at all. i have never seen us that way. going forward were opening up even more. once you go digitally, you will hear everything. that is what happens. we have opened ourselves up already, but we are moving forward. >> we have to wrap up i want to mention a few things quickly. we will be bold and take one more question because there are a lot of questions out there, but also offered to those online and to those here if you have other questions you wanted to ask and did not have a chance for whatever reason, please write me directly by email. skordton@-- he knows what will happen i receive those. we will take one more question from here if there is one before we break. was the one over here?
over there. hi, john. >> i am director of the george washington university exam. i always my career to a smithsonian pre-doctoral fellowship that launched and allowed me to finish a dissertation. i would like to know in your strategic plan, where is the place for research, scholarship and learning? >> i will turn this over to kirk. one way you could have thanked us for your wonderful career is not to ask us that question, but just a guess and call it good. but that's ok. >> one of the incredible things the world over, the people who run museums know that they sit on top of major research institutes. thee are 400 phd's at natural museum alone. people therenvince is a bottom of the iceberg.
a big piece of the strategic plan is taking advantage of the breath of the smithsonian knowledge base, its expertise base, its resources for its field station, its collection, its equipment and ramping up the ability to have more undergraduate students and graduate students, we are trying to build a pipeline not only for employees but also for the world museum industry. these kinds of organizations are unique. they bring together the public, scholars, objects, cultural icons. that really incredible treasures. ultimately they are not treasures for smart infrastructure. >> that is a very important point. we have 19 museums, that we have enormous numbers of research centers and leading scientists and people who research cutting edge research. when the public sees the museums, they often don't see our research centers around the
world and the united states. let me conclude with everybody who is an american who was to be involved with the smithsonian can. there are enormous programs that would engage citizens. they can serve on advisory boards, help philanthropic way, serve as a volunteer. there is always the smithsonian associates, of program people can participate in for a modest fee. they can get the smithsonian magazine. there are dozens and dozens of lectures, programs that anybody can go to essentially for free. i encourage people to get involved with the smithsonian. those of us sitting here and involved in the castle can't do all this ourselves. we need the support of everybody in the country if we are going to make the smithsonian as the strategic plan wanted to be. >> thanks everyone. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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