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Capitol Hill Joins Criticism of Smithsonian Film Deal

The congressmen urged that the meeting include "an opportunity for public testimony, to analyze the issues surrounding financial agreements which appear to provide exclusivity or significant limitations on access to Smithsonian collections, which are by definition the property of all of the people of the United States."

The congressmen were worried that the contract "crosses the line" for a public institution's business deal, according to congressional sources. The sources said that Taylor and Dicks thought the Smithsonian had been "nonchalant" in its public responses so far on the matter.

"In addition to our concern about this particular contract, we would be concerned about any future agreements that are negotiated in secret, without Committee consultation, which commercialize Smithsonian resources or which appear to essentially sell access to Smithsonian resources," said the letter.

Taylor and Dicks, at an Appropriations hearing last month, said repairs needed for the Smithsonian are a high priority for Congress. But in their letter, they said, "While the Committee recognizes that budget shortfalls, in particular the need for funds to repair and maintain an aging infrastructure, require the Smithsonian to be aggressive and imaginative in its fund raising, these actions are often controversial and raise the risk of damaging both Congressional and public support for the Institution."

The protests against the Showtime contract have included a coalition of 215 filmmakers and historians, the American Historical Association, Society of American Historians, Society of American Archivists, American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries.

In his letter to Congress, Small said, "The fear the Smithsonian is curtailing or constraining the work of historians and documentary researchers seeking to use the collections is unfounded."

He also responded to Carl Malamud, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who raised a number of issues in a letter signed by actress Anna Deavere Smith, filmmakers Ken Burns and Michael Moore, and dozens of others.

To that group, Small argued that filmmakers would benefit from the production entity and that the Smithsonian had the right to exercise controls of the material so it wouldn't be competing with itself.

"The joint venture," he said, "will provide millions of dollars of incremental income to the very community you fear will be discouraged from creating projects."

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