The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is one that is celebrated around the world because it guarantees freedom of expression, in particular, press freedom. Since 1997, the Newseum has been entirely devoted to this aspect of liberal freedom. Originally, the museum occupied a site in Rosslyn, Virginia before moving to the US capital in April 2008. However, the Newseum announced in October that it would be closing, a move that looks as though it will be permanent.
The Newseum has been a popular visitor attraction in Washington DC for years, a fact that needs to be put into the wider context of so many other museums in the city that are available to the public. Since 2008, the Newseum has been located on a site on Pennsylvania Avenue that is close to the so-called National Mall which is full of national monuments and museums. Despite this, the Newseum saw well over 800,000 visitors, both domestic and foreign, in an average year. In fact, the museum has enjoyed a global reputation for throwing a spotlight onto journalism including shows dedicated to Pulitzer Prize-winning photo-journalism, among others.
A Blog Announcement
On a blog post that was unsigned on the Newseum’s website, it was announced that the museum would close its doors for the final time on New Year’s Eve this year. The reason given for the closure was a ‘financial constraint’ which meant that the continuation of the museum had become untenable. “[The museum] has struggled financially for a number of years,” the blog post stated. “Continuing to operate from our current location has proven [to be]… unsustainable,” it continued.
Despite the hint that the closure was down to running costs associated with the current museum site, no mention was made of whether the Newseum would relocate to a less expensive location. Instead, the anonymous information given to the public simply encouraged visitors to attend the museum before it closes for the final time at the end of the year. Rather than reassuring the public that a new site would be found, the blog post stated that visitors tickets could be bought online for attendance with a 15 per cent discount at the moment.
The official announcement has come as something as a bombshell in the museum and gallery sector, not least because it was made so informally on a blog post. That said, the writer of the post did try to put the closure into a wider context. “In January 2019, we announced our decision to sell the Newseum building on the historic Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington,” the post said. It went on to point out that the sale had been agreed months ago with Johns Hopkins University, a leading academic institution in the US. It is understood that the university will use its newly acquired facility for its graduate programmes. However, whether the Newseum will be operational once more and whether the jobs of the staff at the institution are to be safeguarded is, as yet, unknown.
The museum’s primary funding partner and financial overseer is the Freedom Forum, a charitable institution that was founded in 1991. In a statement, the forum said that it could no longer afford to continue to allow the Newseum to occupy its current building, a site which covers an area of more than 400,000 square feet in central Washington DC. Currently, the museum charges close to $25 for adult tickets, something that has looked increasingly unsustainable, despite the good visitor numbers, given that admission to a number of world-class museums is cost-free on the National Mall itself.
Some reports in the US have suggested that the educational work of the Newseum will continue post-closure, hopefully from some conventional offices in the city. However, whether the institution will ever be a physical space that members of the public can actually visit remains an open question. All of the museum’s collection will remain on display until the end of December.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.