E-Mails Regarding Washington Post Story About National Museum of the American Indian
This is a chain of e-mails sent by people affiliated with the National Museum of the American Indian after The Washington Post reported that more than a quarter of a million dollars was spent on travel over four years by W. Richard West Jr., the founding director of the museum.
The chain begins with Frederick E. Hoxie, a member of the museum's advisory board, proposing a letter to the Post. That is followed by a reply from Brian Henderson, another advisory board member whose term expired on Monday. It is concluded by an e-mail from Kevin Gover, the longtime friend of West's who replaced him as director of the museum last month.
From: "Gover, Kevin"
To: "Frederick Hoxie"; "Henderson, Brian (Global Public Sector Client Group)"; "Levchuk, Leonda"; "Bunch, Lonnie"; "Samper, Cristi?n"; E-MAIL ADDRESSES REDACTED BY WASHINGTON POST
Sent: Monday, December 31, 2007 2:12 PM
Subject: RE: Washington Post Story
> Dear Trustees,
> Obviously, the story in the Post is upsetting to all of us. I would only point out that there are two sides to every story, and based on my experience with the media, reporters rarely are as objective as they say they are. We may disagree with one another on the necessity of extensive foreign travel to the Museum's mission, or whether the Museum should sponsor presentations by Native artists in the international art circuit. Brian is certainly right that we must always remember that many of our constituents are in dire need, and that service to the Museum of both a privilege and a responsibility. At the same time, we clearly have an international mission and a commitment to advancing contemporary Native art. This mission and this commitment take the Museum into circles well beyond the means of virtually all of the Indian people I know, yet the Museum must have a presence in those circles. So while I can say that I will not maintain the kind of travel itenerary that Rick did, I would not presume to question his judgment as to whether his travel was in the best interests of the Museum. Further, as you all know even better than I, he worked tirelessly for this institution for a very long time and achieved extraordinary results. I suspect that he made sacrifices of which we will never be fully aware. It pains me as his friend that, at a time when we should be reflecting with gratitude upon his accomplishments, we instead are drawn into a discussion of other matters.
> We are entering a new phase of the Museum's life, and there will be new priorities. Not only am I a new Director, but we also add eight new Trustees as of tomorrow. I am pleased that we will spend several days next month thinking about and discussing the Museum's future, and I look forward very much to seeing you all at the end of January.
> Please have a safe and happy New Year.
> Kevin Gover
> From: Frederick Hoxie
> Sent: Mon 12/31/2007 10:51 AM >
To: 'Henderson, Brian (Global Public Sector Client Group)'; Levchuk, Leonda; Bunch, Lonnie; Gover, Kevin; Samper, Cristi?n E-MAIL ADDRESSES REDACTED BY WASHINGTON POST
> Cc: WEST, Rick; >
Subject: RE: Washington Post Story > >
> > Thank you Brian; I appreciate your comments. I am reluctant to respond in this arena, but I want to underscore the central point of my letter: I do not believe the revelations in the Washington Post story were "news."
Holiday filler or not, it is incredible to me that an editor would have agreed to run the piece. Rick's travel-which we have all discussed over the years-related to a long-term strategy for the development of the NMAI which had general support. That strategy involved building relationships with tribal communities, creating a large donor base, and establishing an intellectual and professional profile for the museum in this country and beyond. The Post article also neglected to mention that the task Rick faced-particularly the mandate to raise tens of millions of dollars-was unprecedented in Smithsonian history. Rick accomplished the enormous tasks assigned him. I agree with Brian that this report is hurtful and embarrassing, but I do not agree with what I took to be the implications of the Post article-that the NMAI has no business taking its message to international arenas or that the NMAI should be a Washington only institution. I hope we can channel these concerns into our January discussions about the future of the museum and an energetic role for the board going forward.
> With best wishes for 2008,
> From: Henderson, Brian (Global Public Sector Client Group)
> Sent: Sunday, December 30, 2007 10:08 PM
> To: E-MAIL ADDRESSES REDACTED BY WASHINGTON POST
> Subject: Re: Washington Post Story > >
> > Fred, > > While we all know that this sort of article is a "filler", given the time of year with little real news and many people away, I must repectfully disagree with you and just express my disappointment and sadness at the revelation with regard to Rick's expensive travel.
> First, the NMAI must be conscious of its responsability to Indian Country and this sort of article can only contribute to a sense that the Museum and the Smithsonian are and will forever be a bastion of Washington disconnect and insensitivity. It is beyond belief that one person could and would spend the public trust in such an inconsiderate way, recognizing the message that this sort of spending on personal travel has and would have on Indian people. You must not forget the extraordinary effort made by all tribes to raise money, including lunch allowances given up by youngsters at levels of pennies/dimes, to help meet the quota for the the building of the Museum itself. Rick's behaviour and that of his "superiors" smacks of insensitivity at best and arrogance at worst. One minor but important correction, the Board of the NMAI has never had the authority to approve budgets, let alone the Director's T&E. We have only been "informed" of annual expenses and never had authority, nor does the Board of Trustees of the NMAI have the authority to approve any expenditure, except monies that may be used from the endowment funds specifically allocated from the Heye Foundation Endowment.
> Second, for someone who has lived with the grand project of getting the NMAI started in the first place and my association dates back to 1990, I am reminded of many donors who gave of their own resources in considerable amounts, (including myslef) that the Museum and the Smithsonian would live up to "best practice" standards for a "not for profit" public institution, in keeping with both proper appearances and accountability to the various constituencies served.
> As a third point, I am amazed that the reference to the Venice Biennale and the Luna exhibit resulted in such lavish entertainment, particularly since I was pressured by then Director for Development, Elizabeth Duggal, to help subsidize the events in Venice and I contributed $5,000 of my own to in effect, pay for $1,000 a night stay for Rick West !!!! And I have no idea of how many nights he stayed....(The other NMAI directors who happened to have attended were booked at another hotel, the Regina Bauer, at our own expense.....albeit, considerably cheaper than our Director's suite....I also now feel embarrassed for the fact that at one of our few Board meetings, I enthusiastically endorsed the Venice idea in the first place, including a "budget".....
> Finally, this sort of publicity does nobody any good. It just serves to paint a negative picture to Indian Country, it alienates the very people the Museum is supposed to represent and while you may not think the money spent is outlandish, it is to those who need the very basics in life.....like shelter, medicines, education and they not only do not have the access, but worse, we as a nation have denied them the resources. I am ashamed that my family's resources might just have well gone elsewhere to benefit Indian people more directly, then subsidizing a lavish life style by Rick West.
There is legitimate business travel and justifyable travel, as well as entertainment, but there is also a limit and a need to exercise good judgement as to what it may "look like" and do the right thing.
> Sadly, many people and institutions will think twice before signing over checks to the NMAI as a result of the revelations and like myself, there are those who wonder, to what end did our own contributions go ? I could have sent at least 25 deserving Indian students for a four year degree program anywhere in the US, or funded a wellness center or two on the Rez, or a sports program in many of the needy schools,.....
> My term expires tomorrow as a Trustee of the NMAI. It is disappointing and unfortunate to leave with such negative revelations and controversy. As with the absence of informed process to all the NMAI Trustees in selecting the new Director of the Museum, scant consideration was demonstrated in respecting the opinion of all the Trustees and thereby avoiding criticism for lack of transparency. Please do not mistake my statement as any criticism of our new Director, but rather as the Washington Post article demonstrates, this is yet another hurdle in the public perception, both in and out of Indian Country, that the new Board members and staff will be dealing with in the New Year.
> Best wishes.
> Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld > > > -----Original Message----- > From: Frederick Hoxie > To: 'Levchuk, Leonda'>; 'Bunch, Lonnie' Henderson, Brian (Global Public Sector Client Group); 'Gover, Kevin' ; 'Samper, Cristi?n'E-MAIL ADDRESSES REDACTED BY WASHINGTON POST
> CC: 'Robert Fein'
> Sent: Sun Dec 30 20:24:42 2007
> Subject: RE: Washington Post Story
> > Share my outrage, but not my technical skills. My letter to the Post is pasted below:
> Dear Editor:
> The story by James Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott (December, 28, 2007) on National Museum of the American Indian Director Rick West's travel budget marks a low point in journalism. The "news" in the story is that West's travel was "lavish." By whose standards? Not by mine. All travel was approved by West's superiors (including the Board of Trustees on which I serve). When West was hired the NMAI did not exist. Congress had mandated a new institution with close ties to American Indian communities, but insisted that much of the money to build it would have to come from private sources.
Today the NMAI exists at three venues-all built under West's tenure. The museum is internationally-celebrated and boasts thousands of supporters.
The NMAI tells the story of this hemisphere's Native cultures (and by extension suggests a humane approach to the story of all indigenous peoples). West's tireless fund raising and diplomacy made this possible; he deserves our undying gratitude. Everyone at the NMAI-including West-welcomes legitimate criticism. But the institution deserves better than this kind of "journalism" that is little better than slander.
> 183 words
> Frederick E. Hoxie
> Swanlund Professor
> Department of History, College of Law > > University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign > > NMAI Trustee, 1990-1995 & 2006- >