The Darwin exhibition frightening
off corporate sponsors
by Nicholas Wapshott
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."