Criticism rained down from all directions when the Smithsonian and CBS/Showtime recently announced a partnership creating a cable television network. Independent documentary filmmakers, public television professionals, academics and members of Congress questioned the partnership contract and its implications for "access" to the world's biggest museum complex -- home of our nation's treasures. Funded three-quarters by Congress and one- quarter by the private sector, the Smithsonian is governed by its Board of Regents, whose members include the chief justice, the vice president, three senators, three members of the House and nine private citizens. The regents' compass for navigating such moments is the Smithsonian's undisputed 160-year-old mission, "the increase and diffusion of knowledge."
For years, the Smithsonian management and its board have worked to extend the Smithsonian's reach beyond its museums on the Mall. Several initiatives have made much progress, including the world's largest traveling exhibition service, an affiliates program whose network spans 145 museums in 39 states; dozens of education outreach programs; and the Smithsonian magazine, which is enjoyed by more than 2 million subscribers. But in a new era in which modes of learning and media habits are changing, conveniently available, high- quality video must be part of the Smithsonian's mix in fulfilling its mission. Up to now, the Smithsonian has had a negligible presence on television.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.