David Skorton, who joined the Smithsonian on July 1 and formally took over in a ceremony in October, spoke Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington. In a speech titled "What Do We Value?" he said he has heard "many times" that the private sector "can and should" shoulder more responsibility for supporting the arts. He said he disagrees.
"The government must take the lead in reinvesting in the arts and humanities," said Skorton, who was the president of Cornell University before joining the Smithsonian. "We cannot count on philanthropy to do this entirely. The arts and humanities must be seen as a national priority, and the government must be seen as leading, both in rhetoric and with resources."
The Smithsonian has an annual budget of approximately $1.25 billion, and about two-thirds of the money comes from the federal government. The rest comes from philanthropy, revenue and the institution's endowment. Skorton called the Smithsonian's financial health "robust" but said that officials on both the federal and local level are investing less in the arts and humanities. Skorton, a physician, says the arts and humanities complement science.
"We need only to look at today's current events to recognize that our national security alone would benefit if we all shared a better understanding of different religions, languages, philosophies and the history of our world. Yet, rather than embrace this opportunity from the federal to the local level, we are investing less and less in education and in the arts and humanities," Skorton said.