WASHINGTON (AP) — The Smithsonian and Bill Cosby can’t seem to escape one another.
After facing criticism for an exhibit of works from Cosby’s personal art collection, the Smithsonian plans to include two items related to Cosby at its new African-American history museum on the National Mall. There are no current plans to acknowledge the sexual-assault allegations against the comedian in the text accompanying the items, a Smithsonian spokeswoman said.
The Cosby items — a comic book from his pioneering TV show “I Spy” and the cover of his 1964 comedy album “I Started Out as a Child” — will be included in the exhibit on theater, television, film and entertainment at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens on Sept. 24.
The two items will be part of a collection of 3,000 objects scattered over 11 separate exhibits. They will address Cosby’s place in television history as the first African-American star of a network drama and the success of his comedy albums, which won six consecutive Grammy Awards.
“This is not a Bill Cosby exhibition,” the museum said in a statement issued on Monday, after The New York Times first reported the inclusion of the Cosby items.
Dozens of women have accused Cosby, 78, of sexual abuse. Cosby has been charged with drugging and sexually assaulting a former Temple University worker at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004, a case that is on hold amid an appeal. He also faces several civil lawsuits.
Attorneys for Cosby’s accusers said the Smithsonian should acknowledge the allegations.
“How appalling. The Smithsonian founded ‘for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,’ and yet its silence on the dozens of rape allegations against Bill Cosby only perpetuates ignorance,” attorney Lisa Bloom wrote in an email Tuesday. Bloom represents model and television personality Janice Dickinson, who has accused Cosby of drugging and raping her in 1982 and won a key ruling Tuesday in a defamation case against Cosby.
In January, another Smithsonian Institution museum, the National Museum of African Art, closed the doors on an exhibit that displayed dozens of pieces from the private art collection of Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, alongside works from the museum’s permanent collection. The exhibit was funded almost exclusively by the Cosbys in the form of a $716,000 gift, which Smithsonian officials did not disclose until they were specifically asked about it by The Associated Press.
The museum’s director, who is close to the Cosbys, said she did not know about the allegations against Bill Cosby when she decided to move forward with the earlier show. The museum ultimately posted a disclaimer saying it did not condone Cosby’s alleged conduct. But critics and museum experts said the museum compromised its ethics by displaying art on loan from a sole, living collector, regardless of Cosby’s personal behavior.
By contrast, the items on display at the new history museum are “mass-produced items” that the museum purchased on eBay, and the Cosbys have no financial relationships with the new museum, said Linda St. Thomas, a Smithsonian spokeswoman. The decision to display them was made by Katy Kendrick, the curator of the entertainment exhibit, and “there were no high-level discussions” among the Smithsonian’s leadership about the decision, St. Thomas said.
“It would be impossible to tell the story of African American contributions to American popular culture without mentioning him in some way,” Kendrick said in a statement.
The labels accompanying the items will include “simple facts” to place them in historical context rather than addressing the more recent allegations against Cosby, St. Thomas said. However, she said the text could be revised before the museum opens.
“The labels are a work in progress,” she said.
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/ben-nuckols.
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