American Culture’s Unlikely Debt to a British Scientist

A Fortuitous Influx of Cash Launched the Smithsonian’s Earliest Art Collection

In 1835, through an unlikely turn of events, the young United States became the beneficiary of the estate of one James Smithson, a British scientist of considerable means who had never set foot on American soil. The gift of $500,000 (about $12 million today) carried the stipulation that it be used to create an institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

How amazing—and baffling—this windfall must have seemed! The responsibility was tremendous, in terms of the amount, the perception, and ultimately, the potential effect of this mandate on American …

Coyote as Clown, Cowboy, and Creator

Artist Harry Fonseca Transformed the Native American Folk Figure Into a Commentary on 20th Century Culture

In 2006, during the last few months of his life, the artist Harry Fonseca often spent Sundays in his Santa Fe studio with the curator Patsy Phillips. His ability to …

There’s No Law That Says Art Museums Have to Be Pretentious

If Curators Want Their Institutions to Survive and Thrive, Their Exhibitions Should Appeal to Primary Human Themes, Memories, and Desires

Three weeks ago, I was traipsing through London’s Victoria and Albert Museum with a friend of mine who has the attention span of a hummingbird. One minute we were admiring …

Stay Artsy, San Diego

America's Finest City Is a Hotbed for Creativity—but It Needs More Media Coverage of the Arts, Financial Support, and a High-Profile International Event

San Diego is rich in the arts but, to become richer, it needs to take steps such as knitting together existing arts institutions and advancing arts education, said panelists at …