David Koch must really like dinosaurs.
The National Museum of Natural History announced Thursday that Koch, the executive vice president of one the most lucrative privately-owned companies in the U.S. and Smithsonian board member, has pledged $35 million to design a new dinosaur exhibition hall that will showcase how the creatures evolved in a changing environment.
"We are just very excited to be able to make a new hall," says Randall Kremer, director of public affairs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "The opportunity to renovate the dinosaur hall is an extraordinary one for us. I've been here 18 years and I've made a lot of announcements, but this is the biggest."
Koch's donation is the largest in the museum's history.
"He is a remarkable philanthropist," Kremer says. "We could not ask for a more supportive board member and certainly a donor here."
For thirty years the dinosaur hall, one of the museum's most enticing exhibits, has remained largely unchanged. The hall will stay put until the spring of 2014. After that, the exhibit will close for construction.
Kremer says fossil lovers will still be able to see dinos on display in other parts of the museum until 2019, when the new hall is expected to open.[Read Peter Roff on Charles G. Koch.]
This isn't the first time Koch has opened his coffers for National Museum of Natural History.
He paid $15 million for the permanent Human Origins exhibit, a hall that explores human evolution that also bares his name.
But the philanthropic move caused quite a stir as liberal groups reduced Koch's donation to some sort of polluter scheme to discredit the impact of global warming.
Joseph Romm, a physicist and blogger at ClimateProgress.org, told the New Yorker in 2010 that "the whole [Human Origins] exhibit whitewashes the modern climate issue."
Koch's enterprises have faced repeated attacks over their impact on the environment. In 2010, The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst placed Koch Industries in the top 10 of their list of the Toxic 100 Air Polluters. [The Left Sees the Koch Brothers Everywhere.]
A New Yorker story by investigative reporter Jane Mayer went on to explore how the exhibit emphasized a Koch doctrine: That climate change is inevitable.
"Only at the end of the exhibit, under the headline "OUR SURVIVAL CHALLENGE," is it noted that levels of carbon dioxide are higher now than they have ever been, and that they are projected to increase dramatically in the next century. No cause is given for this development; no mention is made of any possible role played by fossil fuels. The exhibit makes it seem part of a natural continuum," Mayer writes.
But Kremer says donors have no impact on how an exhibit is designed.
"A donor to the Smithsonian has to believe in the mission of the institution, and they have to trust the curators of the hall they are supporting," Kremer says. "[Koch} has no association with the planning. He has never asked to see the plan. David Koch wants us to make the best hall we can."
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