Following is a comment from the group “Save Our IMAX,” a consortium of filmmakers who have created some of the world’s most popular documentary IMAX films about nature:
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History confirmed to the Washington Post that it will demolish the Johnson IMAX Theater—the premier theater in the United States for screening IMAX educational documentary films about nature—in order to “make people more comfortable” and because they think an expanded cafeteria “will be more attractive.”
Since the museum states in vague terms that the theater is “not meeting the goals we set for it,” we respectfully ask the Board to explain what these goals are. The Smithsonian’s own stated Grand Challenges include:
- Magnifying the transformative power of arts and design
- Unlocking the mysteries of the universe
- Understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet
- Valuing world cultures
Every IMAX documentary film about nature fulfills these Grand Challenges.
While the museum, which does not charge admission to its exhibits, claims the Johnson IMAX Theater is underutilized at an average 20% capacity, over 300,000 people bought a ticket to see an IMAX movie there last year. Approximately 80 percent of all ticket sales go to the Smithsonian, allowing it both to fulfill its educational mission and earn a profit.
While the museum also states that the cafeteria is frequently overcrowded (like the Johnson IMAX theater, which is frequently sold out) the cafeteria is empty for much of the day. Could the museum state what the cafeteria’s utilization rate is and if, as is likely, it is less than 20 percent, advise if it should also be demolished?
We believe there are ways the museum can expand the cafeteria without sacrificing the Johnson IMAX Theater and the Smithsonian’s core mission. We urge the museum’s leadership to reconsider their decision, and to engage with the public to find a way to best serve the actual interests of its visitors, especially children and school groups, and fulfill the Smithsonian’s Grand Challenges.
—Save Our IMAX (www.SaveOurIMAX.org)
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