Report from the Road: New York City

I just returned from a whirlwind tour, visiting 8 Affiliates and 2 SI units in New York City and Newark, NJ.  What exciting things are happening there!

The New Jersey Historical Society opened SITES’ Our Journeys Our Stories, welcoming a strong turnout from media, local officials and a Latino public that, while prominent in the city, has never before been represented in an exhibition at NJH.  Congratulations!

The Way we Worked  Also opening, SITES’ The Way We Worked at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island.  What a beautiful installation of this exhibition.  Snug Harbor had a double opening as well, and also opened Holiday Pop Ups an exhibition on moveable books on loan from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum library. 

What a fun way to celebrate the holidays!   Holiday Pop Ups

American Finance Museum  Another highlight was a hard hat tour of the Museum of American Finance‘s new home at 48 Wall Street.  They have transformed the former Bank of New York into a top-rate Museum devoted to financial literacy, with interactive exhibits, a theater and multi-purpose education space, all just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange. 

Finally, I was able to celebrate with the staff of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.  Just announced to the press, the Museum was chosen as the main cultural component in the redevelopment of the Victoria Theater on 125th street, right next to the Apollo.  While the Museum enjoys enormous community support with its many ingenious programs (also available to Affiliates!), it can now look forward to a permanent home with galleries for its collections and exhibitions (and hopefully, some of the Smithsonian’s too.) 

Loren and the JMIH sign Co-director Loren Schoenberg looks on as the Museum’s first (in a long line I’m sure) piece of signage gets installed. 

No doubt 2008 promises more such exciting developments from Affiliates nationwide.  We certainly hope the Smithsonian, in its many manifestations, can be right there with you to celebrate.

a new Museum of Biodiversity

Affiliations was in the spotlight this week as Dr. George Angehr, Curator of Exhibitions at our Affiliate, the Museum of Biodiversity in Panama, lectured to about 50 Smithsonian staff about this exciting project. 

Museum of Biodiversity  Dr. Angehr is also a research associate at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute in Panama, a major collaborator on content with the new museum.  Some of the hottest names in design will realize the project – Frank O. Gehry is designing the building, and Bruce Mau is creating the exhibitions.

As to the Museum’s plan (which is in the shape of Panama by the way), an exhibition strategy that struck me as particularly interesting was the elimination of the “middle scale.”  That is, the Museum plans to commission artists to create a “device of wonder” for every gallery – a large installation that abstracts and represents a scientific concept theme aesthetically, while attracting visitors by its scale.  If that doesn’t sound interesting enough!, the rest of the gallery features will then be intimate and interactive, on a personal scale.

The whole project sounds absolutely fascinating – the design, the partners, the content and the context of Panama itself!  And how proud are we that they are a Smithsonian Affiliate?!



Courtyard   Affiliations staff participated in a lovely morning tour of the newest spectacular space at the Smithsonian, the Kogod Courtyard at the Reynolds Center.  (American Art Museum  & Portrait Gallery’s building). 

Our pictures wouldn’t do it justice, so check out the awesome images from their public opening a few days ago on SAAM’s blog.    

Can’t wait for Affiliates to experience it too!

Plimoth Plantation thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy and safe thanksgiving.  In the spirit of the season, and in the name of historical accuracy that’s also fun, here are some recipes from our friends at Plimoth Plantation, our affiliate in Plymouth Massachusetts (experts in all topics Thanksgiving!)  Enjoy!

 Thanks.png    An Onion Sauce for Roast Turkey;
                               Sobaheg: A Wampnoag Recipe (a stew);
                               Stewed Pompion(Pumpkin);
                               Pease Pottage



colorlogo2.gif  I just returned from lovely Portland Maine and the annual New England Museum Association conference.  One of the things I admire most about this conference is how honest people are – participants and presenters.  I so frequently heard comments like, “ultimately, the program didn’t work so well” or “yeah, we found that the particular board model we adopted wasn’t functional in the end” or “if you can’t get good feedback from your community on an exhibition, maybe they’re just not into it and you should let it go.”  How refreshing to share mistakes so everyone can learn from them!

Other highlights?  The keynote speaker, Harold Skramstad, president emeritus of the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.  He talked about how outdated so many museum missions are – the old “collect, preserve, interpret” line just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Instead, he challenged participants to think about what is their organization’s ‘value add’ to their community, as defined by the community itself

A braintrust from MIT presented on new technologies for museums.  They seem to be heading into Web 3.0!  They are far beyond podcasting and blogs, and into the ubitiquous media-rich immersive environments such as the Spy Experience in DC or The Tomb experience in Boston.  Fascinating stuff – here’s a sample.   

My favorite quote came from a session with Mystic Seaport and our Rhode Island Affiliate, Heritage Harbor.  The presenters urged the audience to be absolutely ruthless in self-analysis of what you have, what you can truly do with it, and who will care.  The earlier this analysis is done, and the more ruthless it is, the more time and money will be saved and allocated wisely.  Hard core museum talk indeed! 

Breaking Ground!

Congratulations to two Affiliates who have reached milestones in their development – groundbreaking on new museums that promise to be stellar contributions to America’s cultural landscape.

philly 030.jpg   On September 30 in Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History broke ground on its phenomenal new space at 5th and Market streets, directly across Independence Mall from the Liberty Bell.  On hand to make comments and celebrate with NMAJH staff were Senator Arlen Specter, Governor Edward Rendell, Mayor John Street and several other members of the City Council and state government.  The Museum, designed by renowed architect James Polshek, will showcase the history of Jews in America, from the 17th century to the present.  Click here for more pictures of this event.

hh groundbreaking 018.jpg  On November 8, the long-awaited Heritage Harbor Museum in Providence, Rhode Island celebrated the start of its renovation of the South Street power plant (appropriately renamed “Dynamo House”).  The Museum will ultimately share this huge historical site with a Starwood hotel and restaurant.  Shown here are Mayor David Cicilline and the developer, Bill Struever, opening the gate for confetti to fly, marking the beginning of the renovation project.  Heritage Harbor will share the history of Rhode Island through interactive exhibits.

Both projects plan to open by summer 2010.  I’m sure we all can’t wait to visit!

Artists rendering of the new National Museum of American Jewish History     Model of Heritage Harbor Museum
the new NMAJH         the new Heritage Harbor