At the Sackler Gallery, there are ongoing massive repairs because expansion joints were leaking buckets. At the National Zoo, an enclosure for wild birds was so rickety, it had to be demolished. At the landmark Arts and Industries Building, so many panels fell from the ceiling, the building was closed.
“It’s got some basic ‘old buildings problems’ with the roof. We had some serious concerns about its safety,” says Clair Gill of the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian estimates fixing all this will cost $2.3 billion in the next 9 years.
A recent government report says the institution has to do a better job getting that money from Congress— or somewhere else.
The Smithsonian is still free. Tradition has a chokehold, and the Smithsonian will not charge admission like other museums do to help fix their facilities.
“We are sort of custodians of the national collections and we feel we want to make them available to anyone who comes in here whether they can pay an admission fee or not,” says Peter Jacob, of the Smithsonian.
But fear not: There’s no damage yet to the 136 million artifacts — including Dorothy’s slippers, the Hope Diamond, and gowns of the First Ladies — are all safe and sound.
But for those to whom heirloom buildings are entrusted, all this hurts.
“This building is the product of an extremely important era in the nation’s consciousness,” says the Smithsonian’s Christopher Lethbridge.
The nation’s attic — where 20 million visitors a year are still enthralled— as part of the heritage around them, crumbles.