LOS ANGELES – Despite the dozens of accusations of drugging, rape and sexual assault against Bill Cosby, the federally-funded Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is continuing with its current exhibition “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue,” which features about 60 pieces from the private collection of Bill and wife Camille Cosby and their daughter Erika Ranee.
The Cosbys’ art is used in marketing and promotional materials for the Washington DC-based institution, along with quotes and images about the comedian. Cosby has been a big donor to the Smithsonian, and his wife is a member of the advisory board. The Cosbys made a $716,000 donation to the museum to cover the majority of exhibition costs, but the organization itself put forward an estimated $136,000 for additional costs.
It is not clear how much of the tab the Smithsonian picked up came from federal funds, but critics argue the exhibit sets a poor precedent, and no American tax payer should have to pay anything that bolsters the disgraced figure.
“The Cosby art collection displayed in the National Museum of African Art serves as part of this man’s public relations offensive while the public battle over his misdeeds rages,” Matthew Vadum, Senior Editor of the Capital Research Center in Washington DC, told FOX411. “It is unseemly for the taxpayers who fund the museum to be forced to play a role in rehabilitating Cosby’s image.”
The Smithsonian said it will not be removing the exhibit, but intends to put a disclaimer sign outside the exhibition room insisting that it does not pardon his alleged actions.
“The National Museum of African Art is aware of the recent revelations about Bill Cosby’s behavior. The museum in no way condones this behavior,” a Smithsonian rep said in a statement this week, insisting that the exhibit is “fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not the owners of the collections.”
However, the Smithsonian did not add that it had accepted a sex-figure check from the Cosbys. A source connected to the Cosby family told FOX411 that it is particularly difficult for the Museum of African Art to get funding, which may be why they may be maintaining ties with the disgraced star.
“The Cosbys have not only given them an exhibit, but they’ve given them tons of money, and have bailed them out of some things with cash as well,” continued the insider. “So they can stick by their position that the art is important and, while it is, so is the money.”
The Smithsonian gets funding from both the private and public sector. The amount of government money allocated to them has steadily increased over the years, from $615.2 million in 2005 to $819.5 million in 2015, and a requested $935.8 million for the next fiscal year.
But California-based attorney Leo Terrell of Clearthecourt.com argues that irrespective of the serious allegations against the sitcom star, the public benefits from the art collection.
“Cosby’s association is limited in scope and purpose,” he said. “It clearly provides the public with notification that the Museum does not endorse Cosby’s alleged misconduct of sexual abuse/rape.”
A rep for the Smithsonian did not respond to a request for further comment. But the museum is not alone in refusing to disassociate from the Cosby name. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which presides over the Hollywood Walk of Fame and awards the stars with their square, confirmed this week that his star – which he received in 1977 – would not be removed. While the star or an associated sponsor such as a movie studio pays upfront fees for the honor, the sidewalk is the property of the City of Los Angeles, which is ultimately responsible for its maintenance.
Cosby has repeatedly denied any allegations of wrongdoing, and will likely not face any criminal charges since the statute of limitations in many or all of the cases has already expired. But in recently unsealed court documents, “The Cosby Show” sensation admitted to giving drugs to at least one woman.
“Media witch hunts are not proof,” added Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture at the Media Research Center. “Cosby enjoys the same protections all Americans have a right to expect — and innocent until proven guilty is one of the most important.”