ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was April 16 – April 22

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.

We are very Earth Optimistic this week, but that doesn’t keep us from hedging our bets with news of a possibly habitable planet.


Clip art banner with ICYMI in black speech bibble

Are zoo animals happy? There’s a simple empathy test we can apply

Even the best-managed zoos fail to address a captive animal’s basic need for freedom

Salon, April 16

Elephant pressing against cage bars with tears coming from its eyes

(Credit: Getty/Jean-Christophe Verhaegen)

Excerpted from “The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age” by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press.

The plight of animals in entertainment has gained unprecedented public attention over the past several years, and much of the consciousness-raising has occurred by way of a particular orca whale named Tilikum, known by his nickname, Tilly. Tilly was captured near Iceland in November 1983. When he was only two years old, he was torn away from his family and his ocean home. After a number of years of being transferred from one aquarium to another, Tilly was finally acquired by SeaWorld San Diego, and became one of the star attractions and moneymakers for the theme park. But the years of captivity and maltreatment took a toll on Tilly, and he started behaving erratically. He eventually killed one of his trainers, in front of a horrified audience. The details of Tilly’s tragic life and fateful end were beautifully captured in a documentary called “Blackfish” (2013). By weaving together ethological details about the cognitive, emotional, and social lives of orcas in the wild with a catalog of the abuses and deprivations experienced by Tilly, the film leaves the viewer in no doubt that SeaWorld is a living hell for these sensitive and intelligent creatures, who go crazy and must be pumped up with psychoactive drugs like Valium to control their behavior. Read more from Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce for Salon.

Art Collectors and Museum Patrons Among Biggest Donors to Trump’s Inauguration

A document listing all the contributions to Donald Trump’s $106.7 million inauguration includes the names of quite a few art world power players.

Hyperallergic, April 20

Parody of Sistine Chapel painting of God and Adam with Trump

Illustration by Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic

Though the art world has maintained a rather adversarial stance toward the 45th US President, collectors and museum board members figure prominently among those who helped Donald Trump raise $106.7 million for his poorly attended inauguration. According to a 510-page report of donations to Trump’s inaugural committee released on Tuesday by the Federal Elections Committee, billionaire art collector and Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) board member Steven A. Cohen as well as Henry Kravis — whose wife, Marie-Josée Kravis, is the president of MoMA — both gave $1 million. Unlike campaign contributions, which are capped, there is no limit to how much can be given to a candidate’s inaugural committee. Read more from Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic

This Newfound World Is the Best Place Yet to Search for Alien Life

NBC News, April 19

Artists rendering of planet orbiting large sun

An artist’s impression of the star LHS 1140 and its super-Earth planet, LHS 1140b. The planet may be a prime target for habitability studies. (M. Weiss / CfA)

A newly discovered planet around a distant star may jump to the top of the list of places where scientists should go looking for alien life.

The alien world known as LHS 1140b is rocky, like Earth. It is only 40 light-years away from our solar system (essentially, down-the-street in cosmic terms), and sits in the so-called habitable zone of its parent star, which means liquid water could potentially exist on the planet’s surface. Several other planets also meet those criteria, but few of them are as prime for study as LHC 1140b according to the scientists who discovered it, because the type of star the planet orbits and the planet’s orientation to Earth make it ripe for investigations into whether it’s the kind of place where life could thrive. Read more from Calla Cofield of Space.com for NBC News.

At the Sackler, a master and his mysteries

The Washington Post, April 20

Painting showing Japanese women in kimonos entertaining and going about their business

“Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara” is one of three Utamaro masterpieces depicting the “floating worlds” of brothels in Tokyo more than two centuries ago. An exhibition at the Sackler Gallery explores the historical context of the works, though it fails to solve the puzzle of the artist’s identity. (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art/The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund)

Kitagawa Utamaro depicted women so well, it was said, because he knew them so well. He was a scholar, a connoisseur and, of course, a lover of women.

That’s how the Japanese artist (1753-1806) was marketed to potential buyers of his work, both in his time and place and then a century later in Paris. That city is where the three large paintings in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s “Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered” were probably sold to three buyers. They haven’t been exhibited together since 1879. Read more from Mark Jenkins for The Washington Post.

LA riots on film: the projects marking the 25th anniversary of an uprising

Film-makers, including Spike Lee, John Ridley and John Singleton, have created work that remembers the disturbances from different angles

The Guardian, April 21

The Smithsonian’s look at the events of April 1992 forgoes the use of talking heads and instead uses archival footage, like that taken by Tim Goldman. It’s shocking stuff 25 years later as a home video camera captures the moments after the verdict where an arrest in South-Central flares up to the point where police have to flee the area. Tense and unflinching, the documentary slowly unfolds with crowds attacking Korean-owned stores and dragging motorists out of their cars. It’s in-the-moment stuff that doesn’t get more vivid than a recording of KJLH, the Compton-based radio station owned by Stevie Wonder, which takes live calls from viewers describing the violence. Read more from Lanre Bakare for The Guardian.

Earth Optimism Summit will provide contrast to marchers’ angst

Science, April 21

Panda eating bamboo and looking at camera

The successful effort to rebuild Giant Panda populations will be among the encouraging stories shared at the Earth Optimism Summit. Soren Wolf/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

There will be more than a little angst on display in Washington, D.C., over the next week. Science marchers will rally Saturday to express their concerns about perceived attacks on evidence and research, and climate marchers worried about U.S. policy are set to jam the streets of the nation’s capital 7 days later.

But there’s also some optimism on tap over the next 3 days: The first Earth Optimism Summit kicks off today at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, just blocks from where the marchers will be gathering. It will feature some 240 talks on what is working in conservation, energy efficiency, innovation, and other fields. Read more from Elizabeth Pennisi for Science.

At Some Museums, the Art Is Now on the Outside

The New York Times, April 21

Video projection on museum exterior

A video display, “Commemorate & Celebrate Freedom,” was projected on the facade of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington in 2015. Credit Drew Angerer for The New York Times

Pictures of a 5-year-old girl from suburban Seattle, dressed up as her heroines — Angela Davis, Rosa Parks and other African-American women who fought for freedom — were shown at the International Center of Photography recently. On Thursday night, they were followed by images of displaced migrants in a Tunisian refugee camp.

Where the museum chooses to display these powerful shows — on the facade of its Bowery building, from dusk to dawn — is a sign of a growing global trend among arts institutions that are trying to make an artistic statement while engaging visitors, both returning and new. Read more from Jane L. Levere for The New York Times.

4 environmental threats that scientists, Nat Geo explorers will tackle at summit

USA Today, April 21

Underwater photo of fish in a cloud of bubbles

Dozens of rudderfish fight the force of the surf in Marotiri’s waters,
surveyed during National Geographic’s Pristine Seas expedition.(Photo: Manu San Felix/National Geographic Creative, MANU SAN FELIX/National Geographic Creative)

It’s no secret humankind hasn’t exactly been easy on the environment.

From climate change to deforestation, polluting waters with agricultural runoff, and overfishing the world’s oceans, the environmental problems facing the planet are vast.

In honor of Earth Day, Smithsonian and cosponsor National Geographic are holding an Earth Optimism Summit to tackle some of the environmental problems affecting the Earth. Read more from Mary Bowerman for USA Today.

Posted: 25 April 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.