The Smithsonian's Newest Exhibits: Water Stains

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It may not be obvious to the throngs of tourists who flock daily to its famed museums, but the Smithsonian Institution is falling apart.

Ominous drips from strained expansion joints have sprinkled down amid Asian artifacts in the institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The historic Arts and Industries Building is closed to visitors to protect them from metal panels dropping from its beautiful but dilapidated ceiling. At the National Air and Space Museum, a water stain mars the Lilienthal hang glider that inspired the Wright Brothers to fly. Even the 1940's prototypes of what was to become seemingly indestructible Tupperware were irreparably damaged in a plumbing breakdown.

Years of inadequate financing and maintenance have led to widespread disrepair that is imperiling the collections, institution officials say.

Smithsonian officials estimate that it will take a total of $2.3 billion over the next nine years to solve the most pressing problems.

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