Presentation, preservation and participation: Our role in the world’s greatest democracy

When Donald J. Trump is inaugurated January 20, he will be the 35th president to hold office since the Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846.

Every inauguration day in America signifies that a new chapter has begun, with new leadership seeking to foster change, progress, security, prosperity, peace and unity. By investing authority in a president, vice president and Congress, and with the important role of the Judiciary, the country recognizes the transition of power and affirms the democratic ideals our founders envisioned.

Interior of A&I building with bunting and flags

The West Hall looking towards the Rotunda of the new United States National Museum, now the Arts and Industries Building, decorated for President James A. Garfield and Vice President Chester A. Arthur’s Inaugural Ball, March 4, 1881. This was the first event held in the new building, before the exhibits were installed and it was opened to the public in October 1881. (Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives)

When Donald J. Trump takes office on January 20, he will be the 35th president to hold office since 1846, when James K. Polk signed legislation establishing the Smithsonian. As we have for the past 170 years, the Smithsonian will work enthusiastically with our government, our new and continuing officials, to realize our mission and serve the public.

Our democracy, “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” provides a superb foundation for carrying out our timeless mission, and to enable that mission to evolve and thrive even as times change. And now, as much as at any time in our past, opportunities abound.

In every area of every Smithsonian museum, research facility, cultural center, and education unit, we’re finding innovative and exciting ways to engage people of all ages and backgrounds, to share knowledge of the discoveries we’re making, the treasures we care for, and the exhibitions, programs and publications we create.

Reagans dancing on stage in front of orchestra

President Ronald Reagan and Mrs. Nancy Reagan dancing at the Inaugural Ball held at the National Air and Space Museum, January 21, 1985. (Photo by Mark Avino, courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Our role in supporting our democracy is broad and enduring: collecting and preserving America’s material culture; conducting critical research in multiple disciplines; understanding and telling our country’s story and promoting the contributions of its people; conveying the beauty and power of the arts; exploring technological progress; and seeking and sharing scientific knowledge.

In the next few years, we will increase research in the arts, humanities and sciences through new projects such as the Secretary’s Scholars program. We will expand outreach, employing digital technology and other innovative programs and platforms designed to share content and information on artifacts and other assets. The Smithsonian Science Education Center is just one of several recent initiatives that has inspired our new description, “the world’s largest museum, education and research complex.” As the Smithsonian has grown, so has our responsibility to share everything we do; throughout the Institution, educators are working with curators, scientists, and others to reach and teach people, within and beyond our walls.

Crowds on the mall with Washington monument and SI castle in background and

Hundreds of thousands of people thronged the National Mall for the January 20, 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. (Photo by James DiLoreto, as featured in the Torch, February 2009)

Over the decades, the Smithsonian has enjoyed cordial and productive relations with the White House and Congress.  The support of elected officials has enabled us to grow into an institution as vital as it is prestigious, a source of pride for all Americans.

In anticipation of the inauguration, and over the next four years, we will continue to advance our mission, as our country, the world’s greatest democracy, goes forward. It has been the Smithsonian’s privilege to preserve and present the American story and participate in our country’s intellectual, cultural and scientific life since 1846.  We look forward to working with President Trump, Vice President Pence, who will be a member of our Board of Regents, and other elected officials to continue and strengthen our legacy.


Posted: 5 January 2017
About the Author:

David J. Skorton is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian. A board-certified cardiologist whose specialty is congenital heart disease and cardiac imaging, Skorton is also an avid jazz musician and a passionate supporter of the arts and humanities.