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Press Room


New Name—Smithsonian American Art Museum—Approved

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

President Bill Clinton today (Oct.27) signed into law a bill renaming the museum possessing one of the nation's first art collections as the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small and the Smithsonian Board of Regents, as well as the museum's director and the museum's Commission had proposed the change.

"As we send more and more traveling exhibits across the country and create affiliations with museums in all fifty states, it's important for people to be able to recognize instantly that the Smithsonian has come to their town. Almost all Americans know the Smithsonian name and what it stands for. So, changing the name of this museum makes a lot of sense," Secretary Small said.

"We especially like this change because it puts Smithsonian first," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. "The Smithsonian name emphasizes the national scope of our collection while 'American Art' summarizes our mission. We believe all Americans can better understand who we are and how we connect to American culture and history with this new name."

Since 1980, the museum has been known as the National Museum of American Art. It is the first federal art collection, whose origins date back to 1829. When the artworks were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1850s, they formed the basis of the Smithsonian art collection.

In 1968, the collection moved into its current home in the historic Patent Office Building (8th and G Streets N.W.), which it shares with the National Portrait Gallery. The Smithsonian will soon begin an extensive renovation of this landmark building intended to replace key mechanical systems and provide additional gallery space for collections, as well as visitor amenities.

Smithsonian American Art Museum was conceived as an easy-to-remember name and a straightforward presentation of the museum's mission. The new name comes as the museum is circulating eight exhibitions to 70 cities through 2002 in a national tour called Treasures to Go that includes more than 500 of its finest paintings and sculptures. The Principal Financial Group®, a global financial services company headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people. Its support will help the museum publicize its new name through the traveling exhibitions. These eight exhibitions focus on different aspects of American art, but each is subtitled Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

"As we share our collections through Treasures to Go, the nation's most extensive art tour ever, and as we work in partnership with museums across the country, we are especially eager to link our name clearly to the Smithsonian," said Broun.

The museum's Renwick Gallery will be known as the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The museum has refurbished the Grand Salon of the Renwick Gallery, its branch museum for American crafts (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W.), and increased programming activities there while the Patent Office building undergoes renovation.

To highlight its emphasis on American art, the museum also changed its Web site address to The museum has increased its presence online by launching a "virtual museum" to stay connected with its audience in innovative ways during the renovations to the museum's main building. The redesigned Web site includes lively new features such as "1001 Days and Nights of American Art." Forbes magazine recently named the museum's Web site as one of the "Best of the Web," describing it as "a party at every click."

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection includes many visual traditions from all across the United States, from Colonial to contemporary in all media. Almost 7,000 American artists are represented in the collection, including major masters such as John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence and Robert Rauschenberg. The museum has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 38,000 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, folk-art objects and contemporary crafts.