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Art and Culture

David and Art - “The People’s Art Museum”


The government supported National Gallery is a treasure for the whole country.

Last week I mentioned that I had recently spent three days in a row at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.  If you’re perhaps going there this summer, definitely put the National Gallery on your to-do list. 

As an institution of the national government, although not part of the Smithsonian system, the Gallery gets much of its annual budget from congress.

In 2013 the Washington Post called that budget “Teflon,” because whereas the budget of other cultural institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts often come under intense scrutiny because of what they fund, and consequently attract all sorts of partisan controversy.  The National Gallery tends to be, well, comparatively favored.

That the Chief Justice of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution are all ex officio members of the National Gallery’s board might help deflect some potential criticism or at least help the gallery seem more institutional than say the NEA.

But more to the point, the National Gallery isn’t the target that the NEA often is because the American people tend to differentiate between the creation of art on the one hand, and the preservation and display of what has come to be called “great art.”  Artists in American society are often looked upon as somehow too out of the mainstream to warrant public support, but somehow museums and curators have avoided that social suspicion.  America’s museums are looked about as part of its great institutions.  Individual artists, not so much. 

In fiscal year 2019 the National Gallery of Art received about $168 million for its budget. In fiscal year 2020 it received $173 million. But for fiscal year 2021, it’s requesting $11 million less than the amount it got last year:  a total of only $162 million.  Most of that savings is coming from a lack of special exhibitions. And other cost-cutting measures, including some personnel costs.

One of its objectives is to serve as a model for other museums all around the country offering its educational resources, its expertise, and its collection for loans.

If you go to special exhibitions at a Dallas Museum or a Fort Worth museum or a Houston museum, you’ll often see pieces that belong to the National Gallery of Art that have been loaned to whatever exhibit you’re looking at. I had this happen to me at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth in 2018 and I saw the piece back home at the National Gallery a few weeks ago.

Next week I’ll tell you the one painting, over all the others in the collection, that I went there to see.