New Blockbusters: Traveling Exhibits King Tut is coming to a museum near you -- but it'll set you back 30 bucks a ticket. The first Tut show in 1976 set the precedent for blockbuster museum exhibits; this year's marks a heyday for the intersection of museums and entertainment. We preview this summer's blockbuster exhibits.
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New Blockbusters: Traveling Exhibits

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New Blockbusters: Traveling Exhibits

New Blockbusters: Traveling Exhibits

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Thirty years ago, King Tut ruled. The Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit drew eight million people when it toured the US from 1976 to 1979. For a couple of bucks, you could see a glowing array of authentic artifacts from the reign of Egypt's most famous pharaoh. The king's golden mask became a pop icon, Tut mania seized the country, and the blockbuster exhibit was born. This summer, get ready for the sequel. The ancient Egyptian returns in Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, which opens this month at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and goes on to Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago and Philadelphia afterwards.

There are a few changes. No masks this time, but an exhibit twice the size of its predecessor, and a price tag to match. It'll cost you as much as $30 to visit Tut II. Another change, the second coming of King Tut isn't the brain child of some dusty museum curator. Big entertainment companies will mount and market this spectacle, including the world's second-largest rock concert promoter, AEG. With for-profit companies in the mix, the prices, profits and partnerships all raise a lot of questions about commercialism, control and access, and it's not just Tut. These kinds of deals are now common in the growing business of museum blockbusters.

Later in the program, the Arthur Andersen Company was not around to celebrate yesterday's Supreme Court decision that might have granted it a new life.

But now do you remember the first King Tut exhibit? Would you pay $30 to see this one? Do commercial concerns harm the scholarly and educational mission of non-profit museums? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. E-mail us:

And joining us first is Nancy Thomas, deputy director of art administration and collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She's with us from her office in Los Angeles.

Thanks so much for being with us today.

Ms. NANCY THOMAS (Los Angeles County Museum of Art): Oh, happy to be here.

CONAN: Yeah, I think you're expecting something like a million people for this exhibit. What are they gonna see?

Ms. THOMAS: Well, it's--I have to say it's a wonderful exhibition. I've been part of the unpacking of the objects for the last five days, and I think the quality and the uniqueness of these pieces will really surprise people.

CONAN: So this is--if you were an Egypt scholar and saw the first exhibit, you really need to come back and see this one?

Ms. THOMAS: I would have to say yes. As an Egyptologist and somebody who's seen this material in Cairo, seen in in '78 when it was in Los Angeles, I would pay quite a bit to see it once more.

CONAN: And if you were just a regular Joe, you'd have to. Thirty bucks, that's a lot of money.

Ms. THOMAS: Well, I think you have to look at other strategies. There are other ways to buy tickets. Weekday tickets are $25. Someone who chooses to become a LACMA member, it's on the weekends only $20.50. Certainly children, adults, seniors, there are different prices for all these categories.

CONAN: But are we moving into a world where museum exhibitions are priced--well, that's a lot more than a movie. You're getting near a show.

Ms. THOMAS: Yeah, I have to say this is the--Tutankhamun exhibition is really a unique opportunity for museumgoers. I don't see other projects really garnering these price structures for tickets.

CONAN: You were talking about helping to unpack the exhibit a few minutes ago. Did you have any hand in helping to curate it?

Ms. THOMAS: In certain ways we've been very active in the writing and crafting and processing of the text panels and the labels, certainly a key element in terms of the education component of the show. We've also been involved, our education department particularly, with the audio tour. We're doing tours both for adults and children. So we've been editing back and forth, and it's really been a collaborative effort on those areas of the show.

CONAN: On those areas, but if you had written back and said, `Hey, you know, as nice as this particular group is, we'd rather this other group?'

Ms. THOMAS: Of objects?

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. THOMAS: We might have asked the Egyptians if they could add a few additional pieces, but the collection had been set as it traveled to Europe to two venues. Went to both Basel and to Bonn, Germany, and the identical pieces are traveling to us.

CONAN: And is the museum set--if a million people show up, is the museum set to make a big profit on this?

Ms. THOMAS: No. We went into the structure in a very moderate way. It was a package that was developed by National Geographic and offered to us. The good side for the museums that are involved is there is very little financial risk. At the same time, there is very little opportunity for profit. But the reason we're doing this is really to bring the selection of objects to viewers in the Western United States.

CONAN: As you know far better than I, this is hardly the only blockbuster exhibit--perhaps this one is certainly unique, but there are a lot of other blockbuster exhibits. Is this becoming, you know, the major attraction, this kind of entertainment value of museums becoming more important than the scholarly value of museums?

Ms. THOMAS: Certainly not for our museum. I think this is just a unique instance of this kind of show. Essentially a take-it-or-leave-it option, that if we wanted to do this, this was the structure, but I really don't see this being rolled out with other exhibitions, particularly for LACMA.

CONAN: Good luck.

Ms. THOMAS: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Nancy Thomas is the deputy director of art administration and collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where the new Tutankhamun tour opens, and she joined us from her office in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times reporter Mike Boehm has covered the phenomena of museum blockbusters, looking ahead to the opening of the King Tut tour there in LA. He joins us now from his office in Costa Mesa, California.

Mike, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. MIKE BOEHM (Los Angeles Times): You're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: She was talking about the business deal and that the--even if a million people show up, they're not likely to make any money.

Mr. BOEHM: Yes, well, in this case, I think the--part of the inducement for museums to take the blockbuster in this case is that there isn't that much risk in this one the way the deal is configured for the Tut exhibition. The high price stems from the Egyptian government, which owns the artifacts and usually shows them in the Egyptian museum in Cairo, required $5 million for each city as an up-front fee to get the exhibition, and that is apparently a record amount. So I think the economics flow from that. And it's organized on a for-profit basis because non-profit museums probably on their own couldn't afford this, and we--AEG, which used to be known as Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is involved in a variety of entertainment businesses, sports and arena management, they stepped forward and are basically underwriting it and seeking to make a profit on it.

CONAN: And that is--I was surprised, not just that organization, but Clear Channel as well, the biggest rock promoter, they're also in this business.

Mr. BOEHM: Yes. Clear Channel organized an exhibition on artifacts from the Vatican. St. Peter and the Vatican it was called, and it was here in Southern California, ending a four-city tour oh, about--last summer it was here, and that also was organized on the basis where museums could take the exhibition and pretty much be guaranteed that they would not lose money on it. The way these deals--when museums themselves organize exhibitions, which is the common way, they have to pay what's called a participation fee, so they are putting money up front and assuming some risk. In these for-profit ventures, one of the inducements in the case of the Vatican exhibition and King Tut is that there is minimal risk, if any. The way the deals have been structured is that the museums don't have to pay the fee up front, and the extra costs that come with a blockbuster, the museum's opening hours may be extended, as they are with King Tut. More people coming through means hiring more security...

CONAN: More insurance, you'd think.

Mr. BOEHM: The insurance is very high. But these are all being assumed by the for-profit organizer of the tour, and the museum's extra costs are kind--the museum kind of gets to recoup first before the stream of profit kicks in for the companies that are out to make a profit. So it's a good deal for the museums financially. As Nancy Thomas said, it's also structured so that the museums won't make a great deal of money. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1999 had a very successful exhibition of van Gogh paintings, and in that case they did up-front the money. They paid whatever to get the exhibition, and they drew more than 800,000 people, and they netted quite a nice sum, which they were able to pump into other needs of the museum and other activities.

CONAN: We're talking...

Mr. BOEHM: There also is a blockbuster exhibition now touring America and another--it's also Egyptian artifacts, and that's being done on a for-profit basis organized by a Danish company, United Exhibits Group, and that's a little different. In that case, the museums are taking on some risk. It's more akin, I suppose, to what museums do when they're dealing with each other, but this is on a for-profit basis, and it was at first seen in the United States at the National Gallery in Washington in 2002, and it's on tour through 2007. Right now it's in Las Vegas, I think.

CONAN: We're talking with Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times. If you'd like to join us, (800) 989-8255. E-mail is

And let's get a caller on the line: Margaret. Margaret's with us from Portland, Oregon.

MARGARET (Caller): Hi. This is Margaret.

CONAN: Yes. You're on the air, Margaret. Go ahead.

MARGARET: Oh, I was calling because I saw the King Tut exhibition in 1975 or '76 in New York, and at the time my--I was young. I was in high school. And my family was on welfare, and the way we were able to get to go see the exhibit is that the museum that it was at had a sliding scale fee at the time.

CONAN: They asked you to donate an amount, a suggested amount, but you didn't have to...

MARGARET: Exactly. So in that way, several of my family members were able to go see it. At this point, with a price of $30 each, there's no way I could bring a family of five to go see that exhibit.

CONAN: And, Mike Boehm, this is an area of criticism.

Mr. BOEHM: Yeah, it's true. It's different times. In fact, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which organized the Tut exhibition in the 1970s...


Mr. BOEHM: ...they were considering bringing this new version back, or this successor to it back, and they decided after some deliberation that they did not want to depart from their usual policy of not--of requiring only a suggested admission, which is now $15, but you don't...


Mr. BOEHM: ...have to pay that, and the Metropolitan said, `It's more important to us to keep that policy than to have this show come to New York,' so Philadelphia is now the--there's--the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, science museum, is now the outlet in the Northeast.

CONAN: Margaret, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MARGARET: Great. Thank you for your comment.

CONAN: We're talking about the artistic and public value of blockbuster museum exhibits. After the break, a critic says why big business is a bad partner for museums. What do you think? (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address:

Back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The King Tut II exhibit opens in Los Angeles this month. It defines the phenomenon of big-ticket museum exhibits: massive, mounting costs, hefty ticket prices at the door. How do non-profit museums afford the expense? Well, they don't. These exhibits come signed, sealed and delivered by for-profit companies, though sometimes there is a considerable risk for the museum. We're looking at the value these blockbuster exhibits hold for the public and for the museums that hold them. Of course, you're invited to join the conversation. If you're a museum patron, do these corporate-sponsored extravaganzas help or hurt the art world? Our number is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

Our guest is Mike Boehm. He's a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

And, Mike, in your article--well, basically there--museum people who host these kinds of shows say, `Look, this generates a lot of traffic, a lot of buzz, a lot of people who might not come into a museum otherwise come in, take a look around, and maybe they'll come back. That's reason enough to do this.'

Mr. BOEHM: That's the philosophy of the blockbuster. It's a chance for the museum to get a lot of attention in the press, maybe on television, which they might normally not get. On the other hand, there are those who question blockbusters, are a little leery of it. I think the LACMA's director told me for my story that it's--they're geared to do a blockbuster every so often. A steady diet of it would kind of wear out the staff and maybe put a financial strain on the museum as well.

The history is, it tends to--the blockbusters tend to drive up attendance and--immediately, and then maybe some of that will stick, but it seems after the blockbuster is gone, they tend to resume--go back to the norm again. It's a matter of the popularity of the show will draw more people and the--a less popular show won't. But the question is: Should museums be depending on popularity or is their mission something else, something that's not geared for mass appeal but scholarly enterprise and inquiry?

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Thomas. Thomas is with us from Freidberg in Germany.

THOMAS (Caller): Hey, how's it going?

CONAN: All right.

THOMAS: Actually that's Friedberg, Germany.

CONAN: Uh-huh. OK.

THOMAS: Mm-hmm. I do agree that there is a tendency to dilute the academic accuracy of the presentations whenever it's presented in a blockbuster format, as you say; however, anything that would make one more person that much more interested in the archaeological and historical aspects of it is--it's all great for me. I'm an amateur archaeologist and I talk to people all the time, and I am constantly astounded at the ignorance of so many people of the wonders of the ancient world. And if...

CONAN: And so $30 or--What?--25 euros, that's not too much for you?

THOMAS: I'd pay it. I'd pay it in a heartbeat. Not even--not even a second thought. It's--I mean, I went to Cairo last year, I saw the King Tut exhibit in the Cairo Museum. It was absolutely astounding. I would recommend it to everyone. If this can make it more appealing to everyone, if this could make a parent say, `Hey, that would be something that my child would like,' or this could be, `Hey, maybe I could take my date out to--you know, for a night, something cool and interesting and different to see,' that--I'm all for it. Anything to bring it out more to the public. That--I would think that balances out the possible dilution of any strict academia of the matter.

CONAN: Thomas, thanks very much. Appreciate the phone call.

And, Mike Boehm, Thomas--well, his point--and plus the point you made earlier, that the profits from these things, if museums get it, they can plow it back into their--well, their real scholarly work.

Mr. BOEHM: Right. But one thing that's going on with the for-profit basis of blockbusters, which is blockbusters have been with us a long time. I think the first Tut exhibition was not the first blockbuster, but I think it woke the museum world up to just how popular an exhibition could be. The idea that you could become, in a way, a mass phenomenon as a museum for at least the time being, there's a nervousness, I think, about engaging with for-profits. You know, there were--museums, museum exhibitions are shepherded by curators, and I looked it up in the dictionary. The curator is related to a word from medieval Latin that stands for `one responsible for the care of souls.' With that kind of mission, I could see where there'd be nervousness when they're kind of partnering--or you see museums partnering with people whose primary care is for the bottom line. And the question is whether the for-profit corporations can do business in a way that doesn't violate museum standards, and whether the museums can make sure that their standards are lived up to, the standards of scholarship and of standard museum practice. They don't want an exhibition to be commercialized even though it is a commercial enterprise, and I guess the question is: Can that be achieved?

CONAN: Mike Boehm, thanks very much.

Mr. BOEHM: You're welcome.

CONAN: Mike Boehm, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He joined us from his office in Costa Mesa in California.

Well, the role of blockbusters and the mission of museums is a controversial one. Joining us now is Elizabeth Easton, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators, also curator and chair of the department of European painting and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and she joins us now from her office in Brooklyn, New York.

Nice to have you on the program.

Ms. ELIZABETH EASTON (Association of Art Museum Curators; Brooklyn Museum of Art): Thank you very much.

CONAN: From the curator's perspective, does the existence of these blockbuster shows threaten the mission of a museum?

Ms. EASTON: Well, I that Mike just made a very important distinction between who is really organizing the blockbuster. I mean, in a way museums are a little like public radio. We all need sponsorship to do what we do. Corporations allow us all to function. But we would not want a profit-making company organizing our shows anymore, I would assume, than you would want the ultimate decision-making about the programs you do to be determined by a profit-making company. I mean, I think the bond between a museum and the public depends on the public's faith that what we're presenting is based on serious artistic and intellectual values, and not with profit as the ultimate gain. We all have commercial aspec--I mean museums have cafes, have book shops, sometimes sell tickets for special exhibitions, but the curatorial and actually the whole team at the museum, what you produce is meant to have gone through a process of self-criticism, of perhaps offering many different points of view. All these things are what engage the public in being able to trust what the museum shows as serious and on a high level of intellectual critique. And...

CONAN: At the same time, everybody also has a bottom line, and a lot of museums, their funding from cities and states and--was cut over the past few years as the budgets were squeezed.

Ms. EASTON: ...(Unintelligible) for sure we know about that, but I think--look, anybody is happy to see a museum full of people. I've just opened the third exhibition having to do with Monet that I've done in the last seven or eight years, and people love to come and look at Monets, but I always like to say that I think his popularity gets in the way of his genius, and there's always something to be learned. But you can be sure that what has been produced has been the product--in a way the curator is protected from the commercial interests of--the director has to worry about the bottom line. What's wonderful in the museum is the curator who proposes the program is a little bit protected from that, and therefore can be more critical about it.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners back in the conversation: Wesley. Wesley's with us from Kansas City, Missouri.

WESLEY (Caller): Yes. Thank you.

CONAN: Go ahead.

WESLEY: Wonderful program.

CONAN: Thank you.

WESLEY: I just wanted to say that I've--if there's a controversy regarding blockbuster--quote, unquote "blockbuster" type of shows in museums, and equating that with a rock concert, I think that's completely ludicrous. I mean, the...

CONAN: Well, it's being produced by a rock concert company.

WESLEY: Well, yeah, but as long as it's--as long as it's overseen by a--museum directors and such and it's legitimate, I see no problem with that at all. As a matter of fact, I think that there should be more shows like this. The--I went to see the first Tut show. I saw it at the Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City, and very educational. I saw the Picasso show--you know, I'm not sure who the promoters, if you will, were for the Picasso show in the--I believe that was 1985 at the Museum of Modern Art.

Ms. EASTON: But the Museum of Modern Art...

WESLEY: The Gold of the Tsars, I think that was very educational. I'm looking--I'm really looking forward to seeing a second Tut show, and I haven't heard your entire program, but I'm wondering, is there a tour? Is it going to be in Kansas City, or how could I get ahold of a schedule of where it will be shown?

CONAN: Well, I did have a list of where it was gonna be shown. It opens in Los Angeles. I know it is playing in Philadelphia, Ft. Lauderdale and one other city, and we'll get the name of that for you a little later. But anyway, thanks very much for the call.

Elizabeth Easton, you were trying to get in there?

Ms. EASTON: Yes, I just wanted to make a distinction between--I mean, all of us are subject to blockbusters and their benefits and their pressures, and as I said before, we love having the museum crowded with people, and hopefully the gains that you--the money that you make from a blockbuster can allow you to do other kinds of exhibitions that will also bring in different kinds of people, but I think the distinction that you were trying to get at--correct me if I'm wrong--in this program is one organized by an entertainment company, not by a museum, and I think that we were just trying to make that distinction. I think Mike Boehm made it very well.

CONAN: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Ft. Lauderdale and Chicago is the other city in the US where the tour will be.

Here's an e-mail we got from Paula in Cleveland Heights. `I went with a friend, her 10-year-old daughter and another 10-year-old to the first King Tut exhibition in Chicago. This was before time tickets for blockbuster shows. We camped out in a drizzle on the ground in front of the Field Museum overnight in order to get in. It was an adventure for all of us, and the girls were good sports about the conditions. When I got inside, I wondered if the objects would live up to the effort and discomfort involved, and they did. Their beauty did not derive from the precious materials of which they were made but from the skill of the artists. The sculptures in particular were wonderful. And I can still recall my favorite, a small statue of Tut holding a spear that was made of ebony. I would spend $30 to attend this show if I have the chance and will be grateful not to have to camp out.'

And a show capable of that kind of inspiration, that's also something valuable, isn't it?

Ms. EASTON: Of course it is. And anything that gets people into a museum is a wonderful thing. And it's amazing how many people have memories of that Tut show from so long ago. I just, on behalf of the curators who are the people who present the programs at museums across the country, think that we do hold ourselves to a very high standard in what we produce and the selection of objects and other things not determined by commercial interests. And I hope that this show also--I mean, from LA, we heard an Egyptologist saying that the objects were fantastic, so she, I'm sure, is a better judge of that than almost anybody. And I hope that it does wonderful things for the LA County Museum and for Los Angeles.

CONAN: We're talking about the blockbuster tour this summer of King Tut II. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And joining us now is Marianne Reynolds, director of exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Last year that museum hosted a blockbuster exhibit called The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. The Quest was circulated by United Exhibits Group of Copenhagen, and Marianne joins us now from her office in Denver.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Ms. MARIANNE REYNOLDS (Director, Denver Museum of Nature and Science): You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

CONAN: So why did your museum decide to host an exhibit put together by a for-profit company?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Well, let me make one distinction first. We don't typically call our exhibits blockbusters. We actually have quit doing that because of all the implications of the word blockbuster. And I know it's interpreted different ways by different people, but we did not really call Quest for Immortality a blockbuster. It did have a significant--some of those components that do identity a blockbuster, such as the higher investment, the increased ticket price to the visitors. But back to your question--I just wanted to make that...


Ms. REYNOLDS: ...clear, first of all--we have a huge interest, I think, in all of our publics of all things Egyptian, so that's really what drives it. And anytime we have an opportunity to bring a quality exhibit of Egyptian artifacts to the visitors, we try to do that.

CONAN: And would this have been possible in any way on your own?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No. No, it would not have, although the investment that we made, it's not quite the same as the King Tut situation.

CONAN: No, I understand the deal is somewhat different. Yeah.

Ms. REYNOLDS: And we did take some risk, but we also didn't have the large up-front cost that this exhibit is requiring.

CONAN: That $5 million fee, yeah.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yeah, 5 million.

CONAN: When the other tour came around, obviously you just had an Egyptian tour, so maybe you didn't want another one, but did you swallow hard at the idea of $5 million?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Well, yes, although I know it would have drawn huge numbers of visitors as well. So I think we would've--we weren't put in that situation. For one thing, Denver wasn't a market that they had handpicked, and we didn't have to make that decision. But I thought about it, and I thought, `Boy, what would we have done?'--because I know it would've been a huge draw. As Elizabeth was saying a minute ago, people--that's a marker in their lives, remembering visiting the King Tut exhibit, you know, 30 years ago.

CONAN: But she also pointed out commercial interests have--they are very different from your interests, at least on some important points. This could create conflict.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Well, it could, but I think as long the museum does their homework and--you know, you don't get into bed with somebody you're not compatible with, and you have to have somewhat similar interests. And, you know, we can work together. And I think that's something that museums have really shied away from in the past. I know around here we've been--the thought of corporate sponsorship and having logos pasted all over our building, it's a very scary thing. But I think it can be done tastefully. And as the years go by, we realize that, you know, we need to find those corporations that we have similar interests...

Ms. EASTON: Can I make a distinction between corporate sponsorship, which is you in your museum or with your colleague museums from across the country or the world get together and organize a project because you're experts on a subject, and then you go and present that subject to people who you feel are going to be potential sponsors? That's very different from buying a package that's been produced by no museum but by an entertainment company.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Well, but we always assign a curator to an exhibit, and we would check the content and be assured that it was the message...

Ms. EASTON: Yeah.

Ms. REYNOLDS: ...that we wanted to put out there because our name is behind it. And you're absolutely right about that. People don't necessarily distinguish...

Ms. EASTON: Well, I think one of...

CONAN: Excuse me, we're just running out of time in this segment. Stay with us a couple of minutes. We'll continue this conversation on for-profit museum exhibits.

We'll also talk about a Supreme Court reprieve for Arthur Andersen just two years too late. If you were caught up in the collapse of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, give us a call: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. E-mail us, This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from a couple of the stories we're following here today at NPR News.

Voters in the Netherlands today rejected the European Union Constitution. Exit polls published immediately after the polls closed showed that over 60 percent of Dutch voters in heavy turnout voted no. That follows the French voters who voted no on Sunday and compounds the crisis of confidence in Europe.

And Congress wants to know which colleges and universities are restricting military recruiters on campus. By law, schools are supposed to give recruiters access to students. Lawmakers say not all colleges are complying.

You can hear more on those stories and, of course, many others later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Tomorrow we look back at 25 years of 24-hour television coverage and how CNN has changed the news business and the news itself.

In a few minutes, the Supreme Court's vindication of Arthur Andersen yesterday comes a few years too late for the now nonexistent accounting firm. If you once worked at Arthur Andersen, what's yesterday's decision mean to you? Our number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And the e-mail address, That's in a moment.

But let's finish up our discussion of blockbuster museum exhibits with Elizabeth Easton, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators, and Marianne Reynolds, director of exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

And let's get another caller on the line on this question--Daniel. Daniel's with us from Tallahassee in Florida.

DANIEL (Caller): Hey, how are you today?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

DANIEL: I just think the role of the museum is to present to people, like, the broadest selection of what's out there, the things that we miss, the things that are unseen, that we're not going to run across. And a corporation pretty much to exist and survive has to refine and define and narrow the focus to be a functional entity. And I would just worry that when you combine that with a museum, you're basically tearing away a lot of the subtler stuff that maybe isn't as shiny as King Tut's mask or something like that.

CONAN: Marianne Reynolds, surely all of the exhibits there in Denver are not King Tut's mask?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I couldn't agree more, although I think, as I said before, there is great demand from the visitors for these kinds of exhibitions, and they're very educational. But we do try to really balance, you know, and have different criteria that we look at as far as audience appeal. Yet we look at those things that are mission-related and the things that are the right thing for us to be doing, you know, in a way regardless of how many visitors come. I mean, of course we wouldn't be in business if nobody came. But we do try to balance that. And we're not always just looking for the shiniest, flashiest artifacts.

CONAN: Elizabeth Easton, is there a danger, though, of museums becoming more and more an arm of the entertainment industry?

Ms. EASTON: Well, I can't speak to that. I just think that your caller may be correct in expressing concern that the finer points, the more subtle points, the more self-critical points are not the things that entertainment companies might choose to bring out in exhibitions that they organize but which museums--they depend on the public to come but, also, on their trust; expect from us a kind of self-criticism, a kind of offering--maybe more than one point of view that's at the core of what we do.

CONAN: Daniel, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

DANIEL: Appreciate it. Thanks very much.

CONAN: And I'd like to thank our guests. You just heard from Elizabeth Easton, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators, curator and chair of the department of European painting and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum. And she joined us from her office in Brooklyn.

Nice to have you on the program.

Ms. EASTON: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Marianne Reynolds, we appreciate your time today as well.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Marianne Reynolds is director of exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and joined us from her office in Denver.

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