How the Office of Government Relations Plays A Role in Bringing Objects to Congress
By Kara Chen
2019-2020 I2F Cohort Member
Former Intern at the Office of Government Relations (OGR)
B.A. in History, California State University, Fullerton ’19
Kara Chen’s Fellowship research was carried out at the Office of Government Relations where she focused on cultivating positive relationships between the Smithsonian Institution and Capitol Hill through museum tour organization.
When the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution is called before Congress to testify on matters pertaining to the Smithsonian, Congress Members and their aides are hopeful he brings objects to display during the hearing. Amazement and wonder appear on their faces when they see objects up close and personal, without a sheet of glass between them.
The Smithsonian’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) organizes the materials brought to the Hill for these hearings. OGR contacts museums and solicits a list of objects that might be available for display at the hearings. With a list compiled, the Secretary chooses which objects he would like to include in his representation of the Smithsonian. Once the objects are chosen, OGR then coordinates with museum staff to arrange the logistics of pick-up to and from the museums, learns how the curators set up the objects, and confirms which curator will accompany the object.
While all objects that are in the Smithsonian’s collections are fascinating in their own unique ways, there are some that have star power in their own right. That, plus OGR and the Secretary’s attention to an object’s ability to exemplify what is showcased for the committees, can lead to truly awe-inspiring engagements on the Hill. An example of this is Prince’s Yellow Cloud Electric Guitar from the collections of the National Museum of American History (NMAH). This guitar was chosen as a nod to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s home state of Minnesota and to highlight what Prince has done for the music industry during the US Committee on Rules and Administration hearing. Unfortunately, Senator Klobuchar was not in attendance, but that didn’t diminish the excitement of those in the room when viewing Prince’s guitar. Senators, staffers, and audio technicians all took their turn to admire the object, talk to the curators, and take a photograph with it.
To highlight Missouri, which is represented by the Chair of Senate Rules — Senator Roy Blunt — the Smithsonian brought the Dorado Dor-Bro Resonator Guitar used by Bill Mabe of The Baldknobbers, also from the NMAH collections. The Baldknobbers are a family comedic band that hosts shows in Branson, Missouri where they have performed for generations beginning in 1959. Chair Blunt recognized the Smithsonian and the curators on record during the hearing and thanked them for bringing the artifacts.
OGR is a central unit of the Smithsonian that works in tandem with federal, state, and local governments as well as the executive branch of the US Government to help increase and diffuse knowledge among our governmental constituents. Other roles OGR serves include but are not limited to: serve as the main point of contact for the Smithsonian Institution and the government, budget appropriations, seminars and tours for Members of Congress and their staff.
I2F Internships received Federal support from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.