Dear President Trump

Mark Walhimer President Trump and Museums 7 Comments


Dear President Trump,

Congratulations on your inauguration as the 45th president of the United States. I have sent you a copy of my book Museums 101 I hope that you have time to read the book.  Included with the book is a note from me:

Dear President Trump,
My wish is that you better understand the role of museums in civil society. Museums 101 is written for people unfamiliar with the purpose of museums in determining culture.
Mark Walhimer

Before I mention the role of museums in civil society would like to mention the role of museums as economic engines (1):

  • Museums employ more than 400,000 Americans.
  • Museums directly contribute $21 billion to the U.S. economy each year. They generate billions more through indirect spending by their visitors.
  • 78% of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities. These travelers—including visitors to museums—spend 63% more on average than other leisure travelers.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has found that arts and cultural production constitute 3.2 percent of the nation’s entire economy, a $504 billion industry.
  • The nonprofit arts and culture industry annually generates over $135 billion in economic activity, supports more than 4.1 million full-time jobs and returns over $22 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.
  • Governments that support the arts see an average return on investment of over $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.

Legislators and funders are well aware of the impact of museums on community. Over and over museums are used to revitalize communities and energize business areas.

I wrote Museums 101, in response to a meeting that I had with a museum chairperson.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the expansion of an existing museum.  I had prepared a proposal and was presenting my presentation when the chairperson interrupted me and said “what is this stuff about educational theory, kids just need ipads”.  I was taken aback and it was clear that the chairperson and I were speaking of different objectives.  I wrote Museums 101 as a book to hand to that museum chairperson, for him to better understand the role of museums.

Recently I have been reminded of that incident and am hoping that the book is helpful for you to better understand the role of museums in civil society. When I use the word “museum” I am referring to the entire “spectrum” of museums to include: art museums, history museums, natural history museums, children’s museums, science centers, art centers, zoos and aquariums.  As a definition of museums:

A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.(2)

The first part “non-profit” is very important and often a difficult concept for people outside the museum field. Museums are not-for-profit businesses they are mission-based businesses.  They exist to support their mission, their success is relative to their success in fulfilling their mission.

The second part “service of society and its development” is civil society.  In his inauguration speech US President George W Bush said:

‘A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.'(3)

The words of President Bush are a useful definition of civil society.

To better understand the role of museums in civil society it is helpful to understand the word “Curator”.  The word “Curator” comes from the word “curate” “an ecclesiastic entrusted with the cure of souls”.  Museums are places of care of the soul, reflection, and discussion or as Philippe de Montebello said,  “A museum is the memory of mankind”. (5)

Museums are places for building civil society and museums are economic engines.  The two roles are connected, through a virtue of trust.  Museums are consistently ranked as the most trusted source for information.(6)  It is not possible to “break apart” museums as a vital component of civil society, economic engines and trusted resources, the virtues are intertwined.   My two hopes.  First that you carefully consider the importance of museums in civil society and continue to financially support museums through the NEA(7) and NEH(8).  Secondly, that you continue to support the mission of all museums to serve society and its development.

Mark Walhimer

(1) Museums as economic engines
(2) ICOM Museum Definition
(3) President George W. Bush Inauguration Speech
(4) Curate definition
(5) Philippe de Montebello Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 1977 to 2008
(6) Museums as most trusted source for information
(7) National Endowment for the Arts
(8) National Endowment for the Humanities

Comments 7

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  2. How proactive! Amazing that you sent him a book and a letter! Thanks on behalf of myself and my museum colleagues!

  3. Great letter. It is difficult for people who work in the For Profit world to grasp the role of Not For Profit enterprises.

    Thank you for helping to save our museums and arts.

  4. Dear Mark,
    While I agree wholeheartedly and also feel that museums are one of the most important elements of a culture, perhaps the letter to President Trump may have been a slight harsh since, assuming from his excellent education, the President must have encountered museums somewhere in his studies and might be offended by the phrase, “people unfamiliar with the purpose of museums in determining culture.”
    But so be it, as no one would be more pleased than I to see this Administration take a strong interest in museums of all sorts.
    I have always loved them and tried to visit as many as possible, preferring art museums above all. What is really offensive to me is the senseless slaughter of wildlife and upon seeing the Trump sons and their ‘trophy animals’, I wrote Eric Trump and suggested not only that it would be wise to stop murdering these lovely creatures and to perhaps donate a wing to the Museum of Natural History in New York, which would include those prepared animals, and then set up a program for young people to perhaps enroll in courses for photography, cinematography, and the like, rather than ‘pay to murder’.
    I saw your site today while looking for a floor plan to create a ‘make believe’ museum for a project at Nebraska-Lincoln University where I am enrolled in an MA Teaching Program as a German teacher, which I have been for many years. I am always considering new ways to instruct and, at present am planning a virtual museum for certain periods of German art (Fin de Siecle, etc) as part of a curricula for students in general). I will certainly give your lovely site credit in my finished work with a copy sent to you. Thank you for allowing me to join and I hope President Trump appreciates your book and has a long talk with his boys!

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    Dear Bernadette,
    Thank you for the kind words.
    Good luck with your virtual museum.
    All the best,

  6. When I was the Curator for the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, then resident Donald Trump was subject matter, not for his politics, but for his role with saving Mar-a-largo. He was the recipient of many accolades from museum/preservation organizations as well as well documented for his conflicts with the cities/county over everything from flagpoles to the flight patterns of the airport. This in retrospect is telltale of his Presidency. He did things on his terms and to his benefit, sometimes at the expense of everyone around him.

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