Girl Scouts “Go the Distance” for a Merit Badge with Smithsonian American Art

Special thanks to Mike Irwin, Distance Learning Coordinator at the Durham Museum in Omaha, for this guest post.

 Girl Scouts meet the Smithsonian's American Art Museum in Omaha.

Group Programs Manager, Molly Gruber walked into the Distant Learning Coordinator’s office at the Durham Museum and asked, “Can we connect girl scouts with experts to talk about the security of rare and priceless art objects?”

Two months later on a chilly April morning there was a good bit of excitement as 74 Girl Scouts sat in The Durham Museum’s Stanley and Dorothy Truhlsen Lecture Hall waiting to be connected to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Most of the girls had never been in a distant learning video conference and really didn’t know what to expect.  With a click of the button, Sara Rouse and Susan Nichols appeared on a 25 ft screen in front of a backdrop of the outside entrance to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  The girls, seeking some of the information that they needed to complete their merit badge in museum studies, were immediately at ease with this technology and engaged from the beginning.  In unison the girls shouted “hello” and the program was underway.  Susan introduced a great selection of slides showing very unique art pieces with background on the artist and format before security issues of each piece were discussed. 

When it came time for questions all was silent until one scout sheepishly raised her hand but when the microphone was passed to her she had forgotten her question.  She smiled and kept thinking.  The ice was broken and hands went up all over the lecture hall anxious to ask a question. The questions asked were thoughtful indicating that this group did, in fact, really pay attention. The girls were really impressed with being live and interactive and asked “when can we do this again!”

It was only natural to contact the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum to develop this video session. The Durham Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, had already collaborated with SAAM for two very successful distant learning programs, finding the staff responsive and willing to create or modify a current program to meet specific needs.    With a broad range of pre-packaged programs attaching national standards and the ability provide specific content, The Durham Museum certainly intends to use this valuable distance learning resource well into the future.  

On their way to a badge!

Alexander Calder sculpture

Cross Collection searching


Ever wish you could go to one place to search across the whole Smithsonian for objects?

We want that for you too! and we’re getting closer and closer. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was just added to the Smithsonian’s Cross Searching Center, along with the great collections from the National Postal Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Our goal? Nothing short of a one-stop searching environment for SI collections!

For example: Check out this search on Alexander Calder.

In this search, we found objects from multiple SI units:
– Sculptures, paintings, drawings from American Art, Hirshhorn, and Portrait Gallery museums,
– Photographs from SI Archives, Juley Photo Archives and Archives of American Gardens,
– Interviews, sound recordings and letters from Archives of American Art,
– and Books from SI Libraries

We hope this makes it easier for the public to find what they need, and see more of what we have.  What do you think -useful?!  We’d love to hear about your searches and findings….

Collaborating in Pennsylvania

I just got back from a road trip to Pennsylvania, and what struck me with all the Affiliates I visited there was the various and creative ways they are all collaborating, with each other and with their greater communities.

In Hershey…

Motorcycles and buses at the Antique Automobile Museum of America Museum

The Antique Automobile Club of America Museum partnered a while ago with the Museum of Bus Transportation that occupies their lower floor.  The Bus Museum has the largest collection of historic buses under one roof in the United States, including the Lakeland Bus Lines bus from the movie “Forrest Gump”. Recently, they’ve also partnered with the Antique Motorcycle Club of America to provide gallery space for some pretty amazing vehicles, including a 19th century steam “motorcycle.” Different collections, common mission – what better idea than to partner to present various views on the history of transportation in America?

In Pittsburgh…

Betty Siegel, Director of Accessibility at the Kennedy Center, with Pittsburgh's performing arts community

At the Heinz History Center, 60 professionals from the cultural and performing arts organizations in Pittsburgh came together for a training on incorporating the lessons of universal design for the benefit of their visitors. The training itself was a collaboration – between the accessibility directors of the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center. Not only was the discussion itself very informative and resource-rich, but the participants started discussing ways they could collaborate outside the session – theaters buying expensive LED readers together that they could share, or hiring audio descriptors to service several of their organizations’ exhibitions, so as to cut costs.

In Easton… the director of the National Canal Museum shared the various ways he’s working with nearby Historic Bethlehem Partnership.  For example, together they are meeting with officials in the state government to make a regional case for support instead of just an individual one, and brainstorming ways to attract incoming casino patrons (a Sands Casino opens in Bethlehem in June) to visit both museums to experience the bigger picture of the rich industrial heritage of the Lehigh Valley.

I may be looking too hard for silver lining in this economic crisis, but the ways that it is encouraging cultural organizations to come together in innovative ways gives me hope for the future – for these museums and the communities they continue to impact.