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The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Trump Reopens Government for Three Weeks; Impact on Cultural Institutions Unclear

As the longest government shutdown in history continued on its thirty-fifth day today, President Trump announced he would partially reopen the government for three weeks, until February 15, for select federal agencies. Over 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or working without pay for over a month, and many museums in the capital, including the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the National Portrait Gallery, were forced to close.

The shutdown was the result of Trump’s refusal to approve any budget unless it included $5.7 billion for the construction of a wall along the US–Mexico border. If Congress cannot reach an agreement over border security by mid-February, Trump indicated that he would renew the standoff or declare a national emergency in order to bypass the congressional hurdle. 

“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” he said today at a White House press briefing. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

It is unclear how temporarily reopening the government will impact the nation’s cultural institutions, which have been hit hard by the shutdown. Earlier today, CNN reported the Smithsonian Institution, which comprises nineteen museums and the National Zoo, has been losing about $1 million a week because of the standoff.

Programming at many museums has also been disrupted. It is uncertain whether upcoming shows such as “Striking Iron: The Art of the African Blacksmiths,” slated to open at the National Museum of African Art on February 27, will be delayed or canceled. Preparations for other exhibitions—including the National Portrait Gallery’s “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence,” which was set to open on March 1, and the National Gallery of Art’s “Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice,” the first major retrospective of the sixteenth-century master painter in North America, scheduled to open on March 10—are weeks behind.

The ramifications of the shutdown have even reached outer space. Trevor Paglen’s artwork Orbital Reflector, a kinetic sculpture that was launched into space on December 1, still needs to be activated—the work comprises a balloon that has yet to be inflated. However, the artist needs clearance from the Federal Communications Commission, which has ceased operations. Once released from a small satellite, the balloon, which is coated with reflective titanium-dioxide powder, will be visible from Earth while in orbit for the next couple of months.

Earlier today, the National Endowment for the Arts, which has an annual budget of about $153 million and provides essential support to artists, theaters, museums, community centers, arts education programs, and more, announced that it plans to use reserve funds to reopen on Monday for up to four weeks.