Museum Studies at Tufts University

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How is the Government Shutdown Affecting Museums?

Twenty three days and counting.

On December 22, the U.S. government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Democrats (and some GOP members) refuse to approve the funding, calling the wall immoral, unnecessary, and “a giant symbol” of racism and xenophobia. Although the House of Representatives passed several spending bills aimed at reopening certain sections of the government as soon as possible, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the legislation.

Now, for twenty-three days, the government has been in a political standstill (and as of yesterday, this has become the longest shutdown ever). According to Trump, the shutdown will continue until his funding is passed, and has even considered calling a national emergency to build the wall without congress approval.

As a result of this impasse, all federal institutions, departments, and agencies are closed. Over 800,000 federal workers remain furloughed, or continue to work without pay.

How does this seemingly endless shutdown affect museums and other cultural institutions?

While the Smithsonian Institution had funding through the first day of January, on January 2nd, all nineteen of its museums and galleries, including the Cooper Hewitt, National Air and Space Museum, National Zoo, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, closed. With no federal budget, upcoming public programs, lectures, and related arts and culture events were also canceled.

For special traveling exhibitions with an upcoming closing date, visitors will unfortunately miss the opportunity to enjoy the art on view. Charline von Heyl: Snake Eyes, for example, the new special exhibition at the (currently inaccessible) Hirshhorn Museum, will not be extended past its closing date of January 27th.

In response to the government shutdown, some artists and art critics are using social media to present their work through a different light. For instance, for each day the government has been closed, the New York City- based writer Phyllis Tuchman has used Instagram to post a painting from the National Gallery of Art’s collection.

Until an agreement is reached for federal funding, Smithsonian Museums and other National Mall institutions will remain closed, and tourist visits will most likely continue to decrease.

Have you been personally affected by the government shutdown? Leave a comment with your story below.




  1. Don’t forget about the 450+ National Parks, National Historic Sites, etc., all of which have at least one visitor center with interpretive/educational staff at minimum and the majority of which have a museum (many have more than one!) with multiple full-time and part time staff. The National Park Service is not receiving any admission fees — funds used for important preservation projects and planning — which is a big deal in this agency that has already seen huge cuts in funding. Programs have already being cancelled at places like Golden Spike National Historic Site (celebrating its 150th anniversary this year) and more are sure to come, with future programming impacted by these delays as well. Additionally, National Heritage Areas — conglomerations of tourism and heritage initiatives and museums — don’t have access to their federal funds.

  2. Also important to remember the various government programs that museum exhibitions benefit from, such as US Government Indemnity and Immunity from Judicial Seizure for Cultural Objects.

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