Despite the shutdown mantra, Smithsonian yoga show will go on

Maria Recio

Breathing deeply, the organizers of a first-ever yoga art exhibit at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, part of the shuttered Smithsonian Institution, found a way to mount a gala Thursday night and a round of programs Friday, all without losing their composure.

The celebration goes on off-site from the Smithsonian property, even as government workers anticipate finally being able to go back to work as Congress appears close to reopening the federal government.

“It’s new territory for us,” said Allison Peck, a spokeswoman for the Freer and Sackler Galleries, which contain collections of Asian art, as she described the effort to carry on despite the Oct. 1 shutdown when the federal government ran out of money.

“This is a very tremendous show,” she said. “It’s more trying to do the best with what we’re able to do.”

The museum workers were able to organize the events because of a quirk in the way they are paid: about one-third of all Smithsonian employees are paid by a separate Smithsonian trust and not federal coffers. Others who are considered essential, such as the curator, were also able to work.

Without the revenue from the gala, the gallery stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors and VIPs who are coming from all over the world to support the exhibition, a unique look at the practice of yoga over 2,000 years. The Sackler expects to take in about $450,000 from the gala.

The fundraising gala, co-chaired by actor Alec Baldwin and wife, Hilaria Baldwin, a yoga teacher, moved from the museum to the nearby Andrew Mellon Auditorium, a grand neoclassic building that is, ironically enough, also a federal building, but run by a leasing company.

“The building is not federally funded,” said Jenna Mack, president of Event Emissary, the company that books events for the venue.

The yoga exhibition’s day of programs Friday for VIPs, press and the public will be held at National Public Radio’s new headquarters unless the government reopens in time, when it would move to the Sackler.

It’s been a difficult time for the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and the National Zoo, especially for sponsors who make donations for use of the facilities. According to Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas, “between 35 and 40 evening events have been rescheduled or canceled since Oct. 1.”

The yoga exhibit is a little different because it is sponsored by the museum itself. Curator Debra Diamond got the idea of looking at yoga’s visual history, from its roots in India, when she was working on her dissertation in the 1990s.

“No one had written about it,” she said of yoga’s visual history.

After she proposed the exhibition to the museum in 2009, Diamond and more than a dozen scholars have been collecting 133 works for the show, including sculptures, paintings, illustrated manuscripts and film.

“Yoga,” which means union in Sanskrit, is central to the spirit of the physical and spiritual aspects of the practice that Diamond wants to convey.

“This is the first time there’s been an art exhibition about the visual culture of yoga over time,” she said.

The exhibition is due to run through Jan. 26, 2014.

By Maria Recio
McClatchy Washington Bureau