When thousands of protesters, including prominent scientists and politicians, hit the streets of Denver as part of the national March for Science on April 22, some demonstrators took note of which groups were there and which were missing. One institution that was notably absent: the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
A reader who participated in the march wrote Westword: "After discussing the huge success of the March for Science with friends who attended, we were troubled when recounting the organizations that attended, and found that we could not remember seeing the Denver Museum of Nature & Science at the event. Considering that the whole message of the event was "science not silence," I find this to be disheartening. I hope you consider asking them why they did not attend the event."
So we did.
Museum president and CEO George Sparks tells Westword, "We decided not to support it as an institution. We felt it was a political event, and that's not what we do."
Sparks says he did have a conversation with his staff, telling them that the museum would not officially endorse or participate in the march, but that each staffer had a "right and responsibility to go for it" and attend the demo if they saw fit.
"We obviously do support science," Sparks says, but he notes that the march itself had a political bent: It was an overt criticism of President Donald Trump's attempt to roll back environmental protections. And taking a stance on that, he notes, is based in opinion.
While Sparks did not attend the rally and says he has not spoken to anybody on staff about it, he's noticed that his staffers' Facebook pages are filled with March for Science posts. "I'm sure there were staff out there," he says. "Nobody said anything one way or the other. I'm sure we had good representation, but that was an individual choice."
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In the twelve years that Sparks has been with the museum, he recalls it participating in only two political events: The campaign to extend Scientific and Cultural Facilities District funding last year and a 2007 bond campaign, both directly related to museum funding.
While arts and culture organizations fret about Trump's threats to cut the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio, Sparks says federal funding cuts would do little to hurt the museum's bottom line.
"We don't get much federal funding. We get an occasional grant. We haven't heard anything from the feds about anything we do," he says.
"People have opinions,and they're certainly entitled to those opinions," Sparks concludes. But the museum's sole responsibility is to science, he notes: "We do it day in, day out."