- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is unfriendly to tourists and historians alike because exhibits are not organized along a clear timeline, a study commission reported yesterday.
"Visitors often expect that a history museum should have a clear chronological structure," the commission said. "They cannot find this at the NMAH. It does not exist. Nor is any other organizing principle evident. It is unclear why particular exhibits are where they are in relation to each other."
Richard Darman, chairman of the commission and former head of the Office of Management and Budget, said museum officials should create a new introductory structure one that visitors would see upon first entering the building.
Tourists and curators would be given an overview of the country's history at the entrance, the report said.
The commission headed by Mr. Darman specifically proposed constructing a multistory core of the building to give visitors clear sightlines to the rest of it.
Currently, the first thing a visitor sees is an exhibit called "A Material World What Things Are Made of and Why." Behind it is a cafe designed to resemble an early 20th-century ice cream parlor.
Marc Pachter, the museum's acting director, said he concurred with the commission's findings.
"Everyone is in favor of coherence," he told a news conference.
Among specific problems noted by the commission:
The importance of religion both in the founding and development of America is largely untreated by the history museum.
No direct attention is paid to the importance of immigration and immigrants.
Sheila Burke, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for American museums, said a recent $80 million gift to the museum by real estate magnate Ken Behring would be used to finance a new entrance exhibit and to open up the core of the building. That donation also will pay for Mr. Behring's own idea for a revised and emphasized section on the military.

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