Smithsonian Conveniently Concealed $716,000 Bill Cosby Donation Amid Rape Allegations

Hiding the donation goes against standards set by the Alliance of American Museums.

Simmie Knox, Portrait of Bill and Camille Cosby (1984).
Photo: David Stansbury, permission courtesy of the artist. The Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

In an update to the ongoing media storm regarding Bill Cosby, his quaalude confession, and his collection of artworks currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, it has now come to light that the museum concealed that Bill and Camille Cosby also funded the exhibition “Conversations: African and American Artworks in Dialogue” with a $716,000 donation, which, according to the Associated Press, “virtually covers the entire cost.”

The Smithsonian told the AP that the source of funding was available to anyone who specifically requested it. Usually, however, exhibitions at the museum list donor information on press releases or exhibition websites, before anyone has to ask.

Standards set by the Alliance of American Museums, moreover, dictate that, in order to “maintain intellectual integrity and institutional control over the exhibition,” a museum “should make public the source of funding when the lender is also a funder of the exhibition. If a museum receives a request for anonymity, the museum should avoid such anonymity where it would conceal a conflict of interest (real or perceived) or raise other ethical issues.”


Bill Cosby.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

The exhibition consists largely of works from the Cosbys’ private collection of African American art (over 60 works in total), and the exhibition catalog features an interview with the couple. Recent allegations against Bill Cosby have already put the museum under fire, but it stands by its decision to display the collection.

“I think if museums had to investigate the morals of every lender, that would be kind of a new and very difficult situation,” Jack Rasmussen, director of the American University Museum, told AP. “Really, it’s about the art,” he added.


Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Thankful Poor (1894).
Photo: Frank Stewart. The Collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby Jr.

But another potential conflict of interest arises around the support of Mrs. Cosby, who sits on the museum’s board and initiated the loan of her and her husband’s artworks. While the Cosbys reportedly do not intend to sell their collection, its display will surely raise its value.

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