On September 19, 1951, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) was established with funds from the Alice Pike Barney Memorial Fund and a grant from the Department of State. The circulation of traveling exhibitions by SITES was viewed as an innovative means of fulfilling a congressional mandate issued in 1937 to “foster . . . a growing appreciation of art” and “to encourage the development of contemporary art and to effect the widest distribution and cultivation in matters of such art” (Paul H. Oesher, The Smithsonian Institution, 2nd ed. [Boulder: Westview Press, 1983], 107). Annemarie H. Pope was named Chief, and before June 30, 1952, SITES had begun tours of two exhibitions in the U.S. and two in Europe.
Fifty years and more than 1,500 exhibitions later, SITES’ program now embraces a wide range of subjects, cultures, and artifacts. From its inaugural exhibition, Contemporary Swiss Paintings, which opened May 1, 1952, to its most recent offerings, SITES has sought to meet the needs of a wide range of exhibitors—from major museums to rural community centers—by organizing and traveling exhibits of varying size, presentation, and cost.