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The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo: The Smithsonian Institution.

US Arts Institutions Reopen Following Government Shutdown

Arts museums, monuments and memorials, historic sites, and other federally funded institutions in Washington, DC, reopened today, after President Donald Trump ended the nearly thirty-five-day standoff, the longest government shutdown in United States history, on Friday, January 25.

While the shutdown began on December 22, the Smithsonian Institution, comprising nineteen museums and the National Zoo, managed to remain operational until the end of the month. The Smithsonian used reserve funds to keep its doors open, but it was forced to close in January as the government stalemate over more than $5 billion in funding for Trump’s US–Mexico border wall continued.

According to the Washington Post, the Smithsonian lost about $1.5 million in the first ten days after it shuttered and then an additional $1 million a week since then. The shutdown also left over 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay for more than a month. The National Park Services said that nearly all DC institutions have now resumed regular hours; the only exception is the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, which will reopen on February 2.

The National Endowment for the Arts, the independent federal agency that funds and promotes artists and cultural organizations across the country, reopened on Monday, which it had announced prior to the reopening of the government—the agency planned to use the rest of its funding from 2018 to resume operations in order to prepare to distribute grants for the spring.

As the institutions begin to assess the damage caused by the shutdown, which has disrupted their scheduled programming for 2019, they also need to gear up for the possibility of the government closing a second time. If the Democrats and the Republicans don’t reach a compromise over border security by February 15, Trump is likely to declare another shutdown. 

Commenting on the impact of the shutdown on the cultural sector, Laura Lott, the president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, said in a statement: “Museums are economic engines, supporting more than 726,000 jobs and contributing $50 billion to the US economy per year. Even a brief government shutdown means not only the loss of access to valuable cultural resources for our communities, but also significant losses for our economy.”

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the US economy lost about $11 billion overall during the five-week period. The CBO expects at least $8 billion will be recovered.

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