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Nationl Zoo Raises $8M for Pandas

April 3, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The National Zoo has raised most of an estimated $8 million likely to be needed to include a pair of pandas in its collection, Smithsonian Institution chief Lawrence M. Small said Monday.

China in the future likely will rent pandas to foreign countries, he said, not loan them or give them away like Hsing-Hsing, a gift to America after President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

Small said he was nearly finished raising the estimated $8 million needed to rent a new pair of pandas from China for 10 years. Any offspring, he said, could be kept though they would still belong to the Chinese government. But he said he believed it would take protracted negotiations to work out the details.

``We have a team over there now,″ he said.

Panda lovers concerned about the remains of the zoo’s last giant panda, Hsing-Hsing, who died in November, can also relax. His remains will not be stuffed for display

``There are too many people who care,″ Small said in an interview with reporters and editors of The Associated Press. ``They felt the panda was part of their lives. To say you were going to display it was just not a smart thing to do.″ The panda’s body was donated to science, Small said.

Small’s ambitious plans for the Smithsonian include trying to raise $1 billion in donations to complete its new Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport and the Museum of the American Indian and to refurbish the old Patent office that houses the Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. These days it’s not so much a matter of collecting small contributions, but of waiting for the big donations that have become more common _ tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars at a time, said Small. Redoing a museum costs $1,000 a square foot, he estimated.

Small bemoaned the condition of several Smithsonian facilities, noting the Arts and Industries Museum has plastic suspended from its ceilings to catch paint falling from the ceilings.

``When you go to a pilgrimage destination you go to be inspired.... Walk into some of these buildings and you’ll be disappointed,″ he said.

However, he was especially enthusiastic about prospects for the addition to the Air and Space Museum _ the world’s most visited _ due to open in 2003.

``You have what I think will probably be the most spectacular museum interior in the history of the world...,″ he said. ``We have a 176 1/2 acre site.... This is going to be two and half football fields long, and 10 stories high. It’s going to have 178 airplanes inside the one room.″

Small also sees great significance in the American Indian museum.

``It’s a museum that’s been developed with the total support of hundreds of American Indian tribes and it will give the nation ... a place of reconcilement for an issue that’s been a troubling one in American history,″ he said.

Since he took over the Smithsonian’s 16 museums and zoo in January, Small has been working to spread more of the 141 million objects it owns to affiliates nationwide. The Smithsonian ``is the repository of the objects of America’s 500-year history that Americans want to see and touch personally,″ Small said, adding that only about 2 percent of the objects are now on display, most of them in Washington.

Many objects have never been seen by the public. For example, he said, there are 25 suits of Samurai armor than American ships brought back when they opened Japan to trade before the Civil War.

``If the things can’t be seen by the American public, what good are they?″ he asked.

He estimated there are 8,500 to 10,000 museums of all kinds in the United States, and only 29 affiliated with the Smithsonian. The affiliates can enrich their own collections with supplements from Washington, he noted.

``If you went to Bisbee, Arizona, for instance, they have a museum of mining.″ he said. ``They had everything but the kind of ore that came out of the mines.... Their mines were totally played out, so they had mining equipment. We sent them the ore.″

Museums nationwide are eager to display authentic materials owned by the Smithsonian, he said.

``You can’t just invent something of George Washington’s or Thomas Jefferson’s,″ he said. ``You either have it or you don’t.″

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