On Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m., Janet Cardiff will be at the Hirshhorn to speak about her latest project. Her talk should give valuable insight into how this leading artist makes her work, and why, and what it means to her. But unless you're a student with ID or an invited guest -- which includes all members who contribute $100 or more to the institution, but not those who pay less than that each year -- you won't be allowed in.

As far as anyone can tell, this is the first time the Hirshhorn has hosted an artist talk that was closed to members of the general public. Lectures by artists are usually considered a central element in a museum's education efforts.

As explained yesterday by Ned Rifkin, undersecretary for art at the Smithsonian and until recently also director of the Hirshhorn, in times of shrinking public funding the museum cannot afford to continue offering such programming free of charge. One way to fill the gap is to increase private membership rolls, but "you have to be able to offer benefits to people who are giving" -- which leads to donor-only events such as Cardiff's lecture. "I'm asking the people who want to hear artists' talks to help pay for them. If you value us, support us."

-- Blake Gopnik