Dr. David Skorton is installed as 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian

Magic was in the air—along with the sounds of electrifying jazz played by master musicians—as David J. Skorton was installed as the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian in a ceremony Monday, Oct. 19, at the historic Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall.


Staff and invited guests filled the historic Arts and Industries Building for the installation of Dr. David Skorton as 13th Secretary, Oct. 19, 2015. (Photo By Joyce Boghosian)

Staff and invited guests filled the historic Arts and Industries Building for the installation of Dr. David Skorton as 13th Secretary, Oct. 19, 2015. (Photo By Joyce Boghosian)

Invited guests and staff, most of whom were getting their first peeks at the restored building, packed A&I’s rotunda as The Hon. John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the United States and Chancellor of the Smithsonian, presided over the ceremony and presented Skorton with a ceremonial brass key that once opened one of the massive oak doors of the Smithsonian Castle.

In his remarks, Skorton evoked the magic and excitement the Smithsonian inspires  and stressed the important role the Smithsonian must play in the world. “We face national and global challenges that cry out for the arts, social sciences and humanities to act side-by-side with the life sciences and physical sciences….Our country, and others around the world, look to us for insight and inspiration….We are so fortunate to be the custodians of the greatest treasures of the greatest nation on Earth. Let’s find more and better ways to share them, to understand their significance, to inform, to inspire, to make this world better—a lot better.”

The Installation Ceremony

The ceremony began with a presentation of the Colors by the Smithsonian Color Guard and the singing of the National Anthem by Arevivia R. Amos of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Welcoming remarks were made by John W. McCarter, Jr., Chair of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents.

Led by a member of the Smithsonian Honor Guard carrying the Institution’s ceremonial mace, an academic procession of 50 scholars, curators and experts then filed into the ceremony, highlighting the Smithsonian’s rich and diverse scholarship, expertise and excellence. The procession is representative of the centuries-old tradition that universities conduct, featuring scholars wearing robes and hoods symbolizing their fields of study and level of academic achievement.

At the conclusion of the procession, E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, welcomed the Secretary on behalf of the Smithsonian’s staff and volunteers. Next came remarks from former Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough, who retired from the position in December 2014.

Composer and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, a surprise guest, then took the stage, joined by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, to perform a musical interlude on the trumpet. Marsalis played a Selmer trumpet, which was originally owned and played by Louis Armstrong, one of the world’s most influential and innovative jazz musicians. This one-of-a-kind trumpet was crafted by Henri Selmer specifically for Louis Armstrong in Paris after World War II, during the French recovery period. The Smithsonian acquired the trumpet in 2008; Marsalis is the first to play it since it became part of the Smithsonian’s collection. This iconic instrument, which is inscribed with Armstrong’s name, will be prominently displayed in the permanent collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture when the museum opens in the fall of 2016.

After delivering brief remarks, Chief Justice Roberts presented Secretary Skorton with the Ceremonial Key, a symbol of the Office of the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Skorton’s Installation speech followed the presentation.

Skorton addressed his remarks directly to Smithsonian staff, saying, “Your work has a profound impact on visitors, scholars, educators and learners of all ages throughout the world….I am privileged to work with all of you—and each of you—to tell the story of America, here and beyond….I am honored and humbled to serve as your 13th Secretary.”

Read the full text of Dr. Skorton’s remarks here >>

Watch the entire ceremony:

Arts and Industries Building

The Secretary’s Installation ceremony is the first public event in the building since it closed for renovation. Among the many changes in the still-unfinished building are: Vast soaring spaces, 60 feet high, once divided by floors and partitions, have been reopened; some of the original painting and plaster have been uncovered; and the windows, no longer tinted white, offer views of the National Mall and gardens around the building. The restoration allows daylight throughout the building, reducing the need for artificial light. The goal of the renovation is to give people the same sense of wonder the first visitors experienced when the building, designed by Adolf Cluss and Paul Schulze, opened to the public in 1881.

The building was partially restored to its Victorian appearance for the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial celebration, when it housed a re-creation of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. After the Bicentennial exhibition, the Arts and Industries Building became a Smithsonian office building and a showcase for temporary exhibitions.

The Arts and Industries Building will be open for special events and temporary programming beginning in spring 2016.

Posted: 20 October 2015
About the Author:

The Torch editor is fired with a burning desire to ignite the flames of enthusiasm among her Smithsonian colleagues while brandishing the Torch of knowledge. She also likes puns.

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