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Coalition seeks Smithsonian affiliation

March 22, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

In order to qualify for a Smithsonian Institution program that loans national exhibits on a long-term basis, an organization must have an established museum or other sources of artifacts, according to a Smithsonian official.

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The nonprofit Antietam Creek Coalition, which wants to build an 80,000 square-foot Civil War Museum with Smithsonian artifacts in downtown Hagerstown, is preparing an application for inclusion in the Smithsonian's Affiliations Program. That would allow it to borrow items.

The coalition's plan is for those exhibits to form the heart of the museum.

Tracy Baetz, a coordinator for the Affiliations Program, said Wednesday that the program does not loan artifacts to groups that do not have exhibits from other sources.

"It's not a branch of the Smithsonian," she said. "It has to be a viable entity that stands alone with or without the Smithsonian."

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Randy Harper, chairman of the Antietam Creek Coalition, acknowledged that his group does not have exhibits from other sources and is depending on the Smithsonian to supply the exhibits.

"Our approach is unique," he said.

Harper said the strategy does not necessarily preclude the Smithsonian from granting affiliation.

"We've kept the Smithsonian fully informed all along the way," he said.

Dennis E. Frye, a member of the Antietam Creek Coalition, said he thinks the proposal is workable.

"We feel that our project is so compelling and so exciting that the Smithsonian must give it focused attention," he said. "We believe the Smithsonian will not dismiss a quality museum so near the Antietam Battlefield simply because it has never been done before."

Harper said he hopes to complete the comprehensive application by the middle of next month.

Baetz said it generally takes four to six weeks to review an organization's application. If approved, it can take up to three years to complete an agreement and ship items, depending on the size of the project.

Baetz said most of the affiliation agreements have been with established museums. Some have been with "emerging museums," but these all have met certain criteria, she said.

Criteria include hiring permanent staff, selecting a site and securing funding.

Affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution would give museum creators access to thousands of documents and other artifacts, according to Harper and Frye.

They envision hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

An affiliation agreement allows organizations to borrow Smithsonian artifacts for 10 years. The affiliation is mutually renewable after that, Baetz said.

In addition to the artifacts, affiliation allows the museum to use the tag line "in association with the Smithsonian Institution."

The Smithsonian can benefit from a museum by sharing product development and internship programs, Baetz said. The museum also may lend collections to the Smithsonian.

"It's pretty much a two-way street," she said.

The Smithsonian launched its Affiliations Program in 1996 in order to more broadly share the institution's collections of some 200 million artifacts, specimens and archival materials.

The Smithsonian has signed 33 agreements with museums and cultural centers so far. It has ongoing discussions with another 50 organizations, Baetz said.

She said about 800 groups have contacted the Smithsonian about the program since 1996.

Museum proponents met Wednesday with legislators in Annapolis in attempt to boost chances for adding $450,000 to the state budget for planning costs.

Frye has said the money is crucial to landing an affiliation agreement.

The National Civl War Museum of Harrisburg, which is under construction, plans to apply for affiliation, according to officials overseeing that project.

Randy King, an assistant to Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed, expressed confidence that the city-owned museum will win approval from the Smithsonian.

That would not necessarily kill Hagerstown's project, however.

Baetz said the Smithsonian will not grant exclusivity to any affiliate organization based on geography or collection type.

The key is to have a viable organization, she said.

"An affiliate is not a warehouse for our exhibits," she said.

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