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Public divided over Cosby’s art at Smithsonian

Brett Zongker
Associated Press

Washington — As the Smithsonian Institution continues to stand behind an exhibition featuring Bill Cosby’s art collection, the public has begun weighing in and appears to be sharply divided over the display, based on dozens of emails and comments left at the museum.

The protests come in the wake of revelations Cosby admitted under oath that he obtained drugs to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex.

More than two dozen observers have called on the Smithsonian by email this month to dismantle the exhibit, citing rape allegations against Cosby. Meanwhile, visitors at the exhibit itself have left almost all positive messages in 74 pages of a comment book, praising the artwork despite Cosby’s troubles.

The Smithsonian released 35 email messages it received in July, after a request by the Associated Press. Of those, at least 30 messages call for the National Museum of African Art to take down its “Conversations” exhibition featuring Cosby’s African-American art collection paired with African art. Some thanked the Smithsonian for keeping the exhibit on view.

Online, it was different. Public comments by email ranged from polite protests to angry questions over how the Smithsonian could support Cosby by showcasing his collection. A few threatened to boycott the museum complex, cancel their memberships or withhold future donations.

“By continuing to display any works of art of, by, through Bill Cosby demonstrates and shows how the Smithsonian Institute feels about women,” one person wrote. “We will no longer be supporters of The Smithsonian.”

Names of those who emailed comments were redacted as a condition of their release to the AP.

One writer called the continuing exhibition “sad and pathetic,” while another called it “disgusting.”

Some said the Smithsonian’s decision to stand by the exhibit on its artistic merits serves as a tribute to Cosby.

Messages began rolling in after the Associated Press reported recently about why the Smithsonian was keeping the exhibit, which was funded by Bill and Camille Cosby, and after the Smithsonian posted a disclaimer online and in the museum saying it does not condone Cosby’s alleged behavior.