October 19, 2015

David Skorton Formally Installed as 13th Smithsonian Secretary

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President Emeritus David Skorton was officially installed as the Smithsonian Institution’s 13th secretary in a ceremony Monday afternoon. The ceremony, live-streamed on the Smithsonian’s website, marks the official beginning of his role as secretary, though he assumed his duties on July 1.

Though freshly minted in his role, Skorton has already begun to make waves with comments he made in relation to the public perception of the Smithsonian, particularly that he does not appreciate when people refer to it as “The Nation’s Attic,” according to The Associated Press.

“I think about an attic as somewhere that you sort of put stuff that you used to be interested in and might be interested in again someday. You don’t know for sure,” Skorton said, according to The Associated Press. “The Smithsonian, I’ve learned, is much more dynamic than that.”

The Smithsonian Institution includes 20 libraries, the National Zoo, 19 museums and galleries and various centers for research, all which fall under Skorton’s jurisdiction, according to its website. He will also oversee over 6,000 staff members and a $1 billion budget.

Since Skorton took office in July, he has overseen many changes and has already been embroiled in a controversy. In the face of requests to remove an exhibit about comedian Bill Cosby after allegations of rape surfaced, Skorton supported Johnetta Cole’s — the director of the National Museum of African Art — decision to keep the installation.

“As an overriding principle, we have to avoid censorship. I am very much against taking down an exhibition once it has opened,” Skorton said.

Skorton also oversaw the construction of the National Museum of African American Art and Culture and puts a poem on his door every week.

According to The Associated Press, Skorton has already begun to implement leadership practices he developed at Cornell such as making himself available to the people who are most in touch with the institution. He encourages people to write him and give him feedback on the museums and his performance.

“I could read a 200-page briefing, and it would be very valuable, but nothing’s quite the same as sitting down with an eighth grader and saying, ‘Is this cool? Are you enjoying this? Is it fun? Is it boring?’” Skorton said.

  • Jake Stein

    He will be missed. I enjoyed his classic bureaucratic maneuver. When students came along with some messy problem he did not wish to fix, or had not the drive to fix, he would form a committee. Then it would meet and would drag on and on, the students would get bored or tired or graduate, and the whole thing would die on the vine. A grape of a problem would be reduced to a dry raisin. An American classic! How can he stall and exhaust items in America’s largest attic?