It's a name that, like a migrating gas bubble, triggers a light sense of nausea: National Air and Space Museum in DC are now greeted by a Welcome Center sponsored by Rolls Royce. And lest there be any doubt that the Cold War is really, truly over: Displayed in front of a Soviet-era SS-20 and a U.S. Pershing II missile a film logo reads, "Scenes from the Movie are Inspired by this Artifact! Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian." (Yes, the DVD staring Ben Stiller is available for sale at the museum gift shop.) Alas, the identical promo also fronts the original Wright Brothers flyer.
Strategic philanthropy aims to magnify existing brands. Inside the Behring Center, for example, is the refurbished Old Glory that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. The underwriter? "No Logo", can't stop screaming.
Branding and commercialism generally cheapen public spaces. For those who consider the Smithsonian a national shrine, it's like draping a cathedral pulpit in an Old Navy ad. Still, in the age of austerity, it's the swallow-hard lesser evil to accept limited branding. One of the few alternatives would be to charge Smithsonian visitors which seems, well, un-American.