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The Darwin exhibition frightening off corporate sponsorsby Open-Publishing - Thursday 24 November 2005
By Nicholas Wapshott in New York
An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution.
The entire $3 million (£1.7 million) cost of Darwin, which opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York yesterday, is instead being borne by wealthy individuals and private charitable donations.
The failure of American companies to back what until recently would have been considered a mainstream educational exhibition reflects the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians, who are among President George W Bush’s most vocal supporters, over all walks of life in the United States.
While the Darwin exhibition has been unable to find a business backer - unlike previous exhibitions at the museum - the Creationist Museum near Cincinatti, Ohio, which takes literally the Bible’s account of creation, has recently raised $7 million in donations.
The outbreak of corporate cold feet has shocked New York’s intellectuals. "It is a disgrace that large companies should shy away from such an important scientific exhibition," said a trustee of another prominent museum in the city, who was told of the exhibition’s funding problem by a trustee of the AMNH.
"They tried to find corporate sponsors, but everyone backed off."
Creationism is increasingly widely backed in America. A CBS News poll last month found that 51 per cent of Americans reject the theory of evolution, believing instead that God created humans in their present form. Another poll in August found that 38 per cent of Americans think that creationism should be taught in schools, instead of evolution.
In Dover, Pennsylvania, last week, a jury began considering a case brought by parents against a school board that insisted that "intelligent design," which argues that a supernatural force populated the earth, be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
The AMNH is coy about its failure to find corporate money to mount the exhibition, which will tour the US before moving to London’s Natural History Museum in 2009 to mark the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth.
Asked which companies had refused to give money, Gary Zarr, the museum’s marketing director, said he would have to ask those concerned before he could identify them.
Steve Reichl, a press officer for the AMNH, said a list of forthcoming exhibitions was sent to potential sponsors and none wanted to back the Darwin exhibition. He declined to reveal which companies, or how many, had been approached.
The Bank of America previously sponsored a similar exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and the financial services provider TIAA-CREF funded an Albert Einstein show.
A prominent Metropolitan Museum donor said: "You can understand why the Museum of Natural History might not want to admit such a thing.
"They are concerned about finding corporate funding for exhibitions in the future."
The museum will have to depend more heavily upon the profits of its Darwin-related merchandise to finance the cost of staging the exhibition, including a 12-inch Darwin doll, Darwin finger puppets and, for a $950, a replica of the vessel Beagle, made in China and assembled in Vietnam.
Niles Eldredge, the exhibition’s curator, confirmed that the exhibition was intended to redress the balance in the battle between scientists and creationist Christians being fought across the country.
"This is for the schoolchildren of America," he said. "This is the evidence of evolution."