And Light Begins To Shine (Smithsonian Institution AR 2021)

The Smithsonian Institution comprises 21 libraries, 19 museums, nine research centres, as well as three cultural centres and a zoo. Named for British chemist and founding donor, James Smithson, it is a repository for the edification and enjoyment of the people. The Smithsonian’s 2021 annual report displays the same enthusiasm and joy of gathering, studying, and disseminating information to donors, sponsors and the public at large.

At first glance it is clear this is not the average corporate report. The whole approach, design and colour scheme show a departure from the norm. The financial statistics occupy all of three pages of the 100-page report. The rest is a testament to the great mission of the Smithsonian.

The year under review was the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian. It was also the year during which visitors were unable to physically visit any of the institution’s spaces for most of the year (the longest closure in their history) due to the COVID pandemic. It also led to the creation of this unique report.


The body of the report consists of a photo essay on the features and facilities of the Smithsonian, captured through evocative photographs that document a remarkable year: largely empty spaces devoid of visitors; essential staff continuing to work on research and maintenance of collections and exhibits; and a gradual, phased reopening during the summer of 2021, joyfully welcoming visitors back to the institution.

Photographs are printed against contrasting backgrounds, much like prints mounted on the walls of an exhibition, which in essence, is what this is. The insightful captions on page 56, are essential reading.

Intriguiing photography is accompanied by inspirational poetry tracing the emotional journey of the Smithsonian and its people from pandemic-related closures, the work that continued, and finally, a return to normalcy towards the end of the year.


At the end of the report, the Smithsonian acknowledges its benefactors. A list of main donors has been published; individuals, foundations, institutions and corporations. The list is topped by Jeff Bezos with his contribution of $200 million, the largest gift received by the Smithsonian since the original bequest in the early 1800s from James Smithson which started it all.

Ultimately this annual report certainly achieves its goal to inspire, excite and motivate donors to play their part in supporting this great American institution.

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