Steps away from the Hall of Presidents at the National Portrait Gallery a new portrait has been put on display. No, it is not one of the many presidential contenders in this election year - it is the satirist (and some would say denied presidential candidate) Stephen Colbert.
In case you have missed the phenomenon that is The Colbert Report, this comedy show on Comedy Central satirizes political pundit shows, such as those found on rival cable news stations. It is incredibly funny, and it draws young adult audiences, particularly young men, extraordinarily well.
This month, on the show, Stephen Colbert attempted to donate his portrait to the Smithsonian. When the National Museum of American History turned him down, he went to the National Portrait Gallery. While they did not accept the donation, they did agree to display the portrait for six weeks . . . . outside the restrooms near the Hall of Presidents (you can seen the video by going to Comedy Central's website).
What a smart, savvy decision by the folks at NPG! Not only did they receive priceless good publicity, but they did so in a way that directly reaches a demographic - young adults, men in particular - that do not visit art museums in large numbers. Additionally, by being willing to make fun of themselves they actually made their museum more relevant to this audience.
I bet they will see a spike in attendance because of this publicity - and I also bet that a lot of these visitors will come away from the museum thinking they are pretty cool (and that they have cool other stuff on display too!).
So, quoting Mr. Colbert from his show:
"Go to Washington. Go to the National Portrait Gallery. Go to the second floor . . . and use the bathroom."