Houston, the Smithsonian has a problem – or at least it did. Its National Air and Space Museum wanted to display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit in July 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but traditional fundraising methods had not proved adequate to support the project.
In response, a museum complex founded in the 19th century took a 21st-century tack: It launched an online campaign to crowd-fund the endeavor. The Smithsonian’s campaign, which met its goal with ease, was a forward-thinking way to sweep the dust out of “America’s attic.” We hope to see more like it.
The “Reboot the Suit” Kickstarter met its month-long $500,000 goal within a week. Now it is aiming for $200,000 more. At the same time, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is fighting in Congress for a bill to change the Smithsonian’s governance structure. The proposed legislation, now before a House committee, would remove public officials such as the vice president and the chief justice from the Smithsonian’s board of regents and replace them with private citizens whose positions don’t impede them from soliciting donations.
It’s clear that the Smithsonian needs money. About 70 percent of its funding comes from federal appropriations, but that goes mostly toward salaries, construction and maintenance. For the rest, the Smithsonian relies on business and philanthropy, and lately those sources have not been enough.
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Ms. Norton’s proposed changes to the Smithsonian board would put wealthy citizens at the institute’s helm and encourage them to tap other rich individuals for funds. But there is something more compelling about a campaign that galvanizes people from all over the country to contribute all sorts of amounts – from just one dollar to more than $10,000.
This was excerpted from The Washington Post.