ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was Feb. 26 – Mar. 4, 2017

No one can keep up with everything, so let us do it for you. We’ll gather the top Smithsonian stories from across the country and around the world each week so you’ll never be at a loss for conversation around the water cooler.

Record-breaking crowds turn out for Smashing Pumpkins! Or rather, pumpkin-smashing crowd turns out for record breaking exhibition! In a week where we learned more about cuts to arts funding, it’s great to see an art exhibition draw a rock-star audience.


Clip art banner with ICYMI in black speech bibble

Federal arts funding is on the White House’s hit list

If culture agencies dodge the fatal bullet, they should focus on collection-sharing and investment in bricks and mortar

The Art Newspaper, Feb. 26

Trump and Justin Trudeau shaking hands

Trump meets Trudeau: the Canadian prime minister (left) has boosted funding for the arts, but the new US president is expected to cut federal arts funding and to eliminate programmes (Image: © REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

Federal arts funding, ignored by Democrats and Republicans during the presidential campaign, is finally getting attention. America’s cultural agencies, including the two national endowments, for the arts (NEA) and for the humanities (NEH), are operating on money appropriated until April. There is much talk that the next omnibus budget bill will provide no money for these agencies, essentially closing them.

This would throw the baby out with the bath water. The culture agencies do plenty of fine work. Yet for many reasons, good and bad, they are a target. Having been badly burned in the 1980s and 1990s, they avoid the most incendiary projects about sexuality or faith. If anything, in the past few years, they have worked quietly and deliberately, as if tip-toeing around controversy but also around big new ideas. Read more commentary from Brian Allen for The Art Newspaper.

Display of court records highlights a century of segregation in Loudoun County

The Washington Post, Feb 27

Woman looking at ledger books

Barbara Turner-Locke of Lorton examines records detailing segregation in Loudon’s public schools. The documents were displayed Feb 11 at the Loudon County Courthouse. (Jim Barnes for The Washington Post)

An open house at the Loudoun County Courthouse on Feb. 11 highlighted the century of segregation in Virginia that followed the Civil War and the abolishing of slavery.

The Clerk of the Circuit Court’s Office displayed records that document the separate and unequal treatment of African Americans in the county during that time. Documents reveal how segregation pervaded all areas of life, including the education, public services and land transactions.

Many of the records pertained to the public schools, from the 1883 purchase of land for the Union Street School in Leesburg to the 1959 sale of that and four other properties that had housed schools for African American children. Among those properties was the former Ashburn Colored School, which was vandalized last year and is being restored by the Loudoun School for the Gifted. Read more from Jim Barnes for The Washington Post.

People Are Already Selling Tickets to “Infinity Mirrors” on Craigslist

Tickets sold out in under a minute on Monday.

Washingtonian, Feb. 27

large amorphous object on display as part of Infinity Mirrors exhibition

Photo by Evy Mages

An exhibition of five decades’ worth of Yayoi Kusama‘s immersive, kaleidoscopic work opened this past weekend at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Eight thousand people have seen it since then, and timed passes are hard to get. According to the museum, all advance passes have been claimed through March 13. Following glowing reviews after its opening last week, tickets vanished in less than a minute Monday as soon as the online pass portal opened.

Enter Craigslist, where this guy is selling tickets for $25 each or $80 for four. “We’re working with Craigslist directly to take down posts selling free passes,” says Hirshhorn spokesperson Allison Peck. “Our goal is to offer as many free timed passes as possible, keeping in mind the capacity of the exhibition. We’re also planning on implementing late night hours to be able to offer more free chances for the public to visit.” Read more from Julie Strupp for Washingtonian.

NOTE: Artnet reported that a “similar” pumpkin sculpture was sold at auction for $800,000. In fact, it was not similar—the one in this Infinity Room was one of 60 small plastic pumpkins and the one cited in news reports was a stand-alone 4-foot sculpture by Kusama. The pumpkin Infinity Room was closed for 2 and a half days after the incident. The other five rooms in the exhibition remained open.

Kusama Infinity Room Reopens at Hirshhorn Exhibition After Sculpture Damage

The New York Times, Feb 28

Room of Yellow and black-spotted pumpkins

The room, called “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins,” is one of six in the exhibition at the Hirshhorn. (Tyrone Turner for The New York Times)


A wildly popular interactive exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington was fully reopened on Tuesday, three days after part of it was shut down when a visitor accidentally damaged a glowing pumpkin.

News reports over the weekend made the incident sound like a worst-case scenario for modern life: a self-absorbed art fan reaching for the perfect selfie shatters a work of art valued at close to $800,000. Read more from Christine Hauser for the New York Times.

‘Priestess Of Polka Dots’ Yayoi Kusama Gives Gallerygoers A Taste Of Infinity

NPR, March 1

Artist in colorful dress and wig ingallery of bright paintings

Yayoi Kusama with recent works in Tokyo in 2016. In 1968, Kusama wrote, “Our Earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity.” (Tomoaki Makino/Courtesy of Yayoi Kusama)

Infinity is a concept that’s nearly impossible to grasp, let alone see. But it’s one of artist Yayoi Kusama’s obsessions.

The Japanese artist is known for her “infinity rooms,” which have mirrored walls that make the space feel endless. Now, for the very first time, six of Kusama’s infinity rooms are on display in one venue: the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. (The show will later travel to Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities.)

At first, walking into one of Kusama’s infinity rooms can be disorienting. One room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, is pitch black except for a spray of flickering red, green, yellow and blue lights — like little jewels suspended in mid-air. They seem to go on forever; you’re not sure what you can touch and what’s out of reach. Read more from Elizabeth Blair and listen to the story from NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

This triceratops is a Smithsonian icon. Now he’ll be fed to a T. rex.

The Washington Post, March 1

Black and white photo of Triceretops fossil

The original Hatcher mount. It had a stooped posture and bowed legs, and several of its body parts were out of proportion. (Photo courtesy National Museum of Natural History)

When a dinosaur nicknamed “Hatcher” was cobbled together a century ago, he was the first triceratops the world had seen in 66 million years. And he looked the worse for it.

The triceratops mount that went on display in 1905 was stooped and awkward. No one had yet found a complete skeleton of this species, so curators used bones from 10 distinct individuals and relied on educated guesses to put them all together. The result was a creature with a head too small for its body and arms of different lengths. Its feet came from a duck-billed dinosaur, an animal from an entirely different family.

“That skeleton was a little bit of a Frankenstein,” admitted paleontologist Matthew Carrano, dinosaur curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Now Hatcher faces his greatest indignity yet: He’s going to be fed to a Tyrannosaurus rex. Read more from Sarah Kaplan for The Washington Post.

The Colorful History of the Freer Gallery of Art

NBC News 4, March 1

Barbara Harrison spent a day with Julian Raby, director of the Freer Gallery of Art, and curator of American art, Lee Glazer, learning how the gallery came to the National Mall. The gallery is currently under renovation but will reopen in October.

This clouded leopard cub is a cutie and a scientific achievement

Mashable, March 3

The Nashville Zoo was overcome with joy at the birth of a male clouded leopard on Wednesday. But it’s not just because the tiny feline is adorable. He’s also big step for the zoo and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

The little guy, who is so new he has yet to be named, was the first of his species to be born from an artificial insemination procedure that used frozen (and eventually thawed) semen. Read more from Sasha Lekach for Mashable.

Posted: 7 March 2017
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.