Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obama Signs Stimulus Bill at Denver Museum

I'm amused by news this morning that President Obama will be signing the stimulus package at a Denver museum. After having been voted out of the Senate version of the bill, museums, arts centers and theaters were reinstated to the list of institutions eligible to compete for stimulus funding.  

In a move that has left the museum community shaking its head in disbelief, zoos and aquariums were specifically excluded in all versions of the bill right from the start. Apparently, Washington understands living collections as more akin to entertainment than to scientific research and education.  I guess our lawmakers think that living, breathing animals, fish and plants are too "fun" (like the also excluded swimming pools and casinos) and therefore not worthy of a hefty dose of taxpayer stimulus dollars.   

Ironically, Obama is signing this bill at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, but the animals he'll see there will be of the serious and not fun stuffed variety.  

What the stimulus could mean for many cultural institutions is likely as diverse as the cultural sector itself.  I suspect it means that some institutions will finally be able to finish capital projects that have been languishing for months or years and many might be able to finally get the upper hand on years of deferred maintenance of historic structures and aging buildings. Then there's energy efficiency projects of all sorts.  All of these projects will keep tradesmen, engineers and architects working.

The additional $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts means that each of our state arts councils will get a little piece of that -- for some states that might equal an entire arts council budget; for others, it'll be a small bandaid on a large gash.  It all helps. 

So, let's watch the news today to see what's chosen as the backdrop for the president.  An exhibition, some dioramas, a laboratory perhaps, or the museum's auditorium?  I'm hoping he refers to his surroundings and mentions how important museums are to both educational and economic stimulation.

Photo:  Andy Warhol : Dollar Sign (1982) by Marc Wathieu

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