Despite the numerous allegations, lawsuits, and voided production deals—which might finally lead to a trial for sexual assault—Bill Cosby remains improbably popular at the Smithsonian: After putting the disgraced comedian’s privately-collected artwork on display as part of the National Museum of African Art, the Washington institution was unswayed by protests calling for the removal of the donated works. The exhibit closed its doors in January, though it’s unclear if it did so in response to outside pressure. That seems unlikely, as Yahoo! News reports that the Smithsonian plans to include some Cosby memorabilia at its newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in an exhibit on theater, television, film and entertainment.
The two items in question are a comic book from Cosby’s early TV show, I Spy, as well as the album cover for his 1964 work I Started Out as a Child; they were not donated by Cosby, as the museum purchased them on eBay. Their inclusion is intended to “address Cosby’s place in television history as the first African-American star of a network drama and the success of his comedy albums,” because “the story of African American contributions to American popular culture” cannot be told “without mentioning him in some way.”
The museum is insisting that “this is not a Bill Cosby exhibition,” and that the labels affixed to the items “will include ‘simple facts’ to place them in historical context,” while presumably ignoring the dozens of allegations of sexual assault that have been disclosed against Cosby over the years. Throwing oblivious fuel on the fire are a Smithsonian spokeswoman’s remarks to Yahoo! News, in which she stated that “there were no high-level discussions“ about whether to include Cosby in the exhibit. The New York Times, which first reported on the new exhibit/museum over the weekend, notes that Cosby’s inclusion was “never a matter for debate.”
But Angela Rose, the executive director of Promoting Awareness|Victim Empowerment (PAVE), is trying to generate a new discussion on the matter; she recently called out the institution while also speaking up for rape victims, including Cosby’s alleged ones.
“It is so difficult for people to report personal crimes like rape and sexual assault. Continuing to enshrine the man once considered ‘America’s Dad’ who is an alleged rapist, and give him a place in a museum overlooks his crimes and tells other perpetrators that their actions have no consequences.”
PAVE also led the charge to have Cosby’s Medal Of Freedom revoked, though President Barack Obama made it clear last July that he could not actually do so. Even if the items stay put, Cosby probably won’t have a chance to visit the exhibit, as he’ll be tied up in court facing Janice Dickinson’s defamation lawsuit, which recently gained traction, as well as a possible criminal trial.