A. Perspective on the Problems and Their Solution
Although the problems and challenges outlined above might be viewed as daunting, the Commission strongly believes that they are manageable. NMAH has the potential to retain its special place of trust within American culture, to sustain its unrivaled position as a repository for American historical collections, and to remain one of the most visited museums in the world. But its potential goes far beyond maintaining these important distinctions. It can also be transformed into a museum that is architecturally compelling; aesthetically appealing; engaging; celebratory; balanced; intellectually responsible; educationally effective; and readily comprehensible. The recommendations that follow are intended to help advance such a transformation.
The recommendations are presented under five headings: Architecture and Aesthetics, Visitor Orientation, Substantive Balance, Reach, and Implementation. Argument for the recommendations here is limited. (The Commission is prepared to supplement this Report with oral discussion, and looks forward to doing so.) The recommendations follow directly from the Commission's view of the Museum's problems. Indeed, the Commission's first two recommendations concern the conception of the Museum's problems.
RECOMMENDATION (1) re: THE PROBLEM
IN ORDER TO FOCUS ENERGY, RESOURCES, AND EFFECTIVE ACTION ON SOLVING THE MAJOR PROBLEMS FACING NMAH, THOSE PROBLEMS MUST BE SIMPLY CONCEIVED AND CLEARLY STATED: IN SPITE OF ITS GREAT STRENGTHS AND ITS JUSTIFIABLE POSITION AS ONE OF THE MOST VISITED MUSEUMS IN THE WORLD, NMAH IS IN NEED OF TRANSFORMATION. IT LACKS AESTHETIC APPEAL, COHERENCE, AND THE PERCEPTION OF SUBSTANTIVE BALANCE.
RECOMMENDATION (2) re: CARE IN ATTENDING TO THE COMPLEXITY OF SOLUTIONS
IN ORDER TO ADDRESS THESE SIMPLY-STATED PROBLEMS WITHOUT CREATING NEW PROBLEMS (OR COMPOUNDING EXISTING PROBLEMS), THE ELEMENTS OF SOLUTION MUST BE DEVELOPED AS A SET -- WITH SENSITIVITY TO THE COMPLEXITY OF INTERACTIONS AMONG PROBLEMS AND WOULD-BE SOLUTIONS.
That is, though stating the problems may be simple, solving them is not. The plan for coherence must itself be coherent. Its execution requires special care. Including more subjects for exhibits can risk decreasing coherence. Attending to one school of thought can risk losing the confidence of others. Using private donations to relieve funding constraints can risk losing a special bond of public trust. Gaining long-term funding commitments can decrease future flexibility. Reducing the "attic effect" can decrease display space. And so on. The point here is obvious -- but no less serious for being so.