Five Smithsonian Affiliates host live webcast for “National Youth Summit: The 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides”

From May until November 1961, more than 400 diverse and committed Americans rode south together on buses and trains, putting their bodies and freedom on the line to challenge the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial injustice and inequality in public transportation. The Freedom Rides changed the Civil Rights Movement and demonstrated the power of individual action to change the nation. 

On Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 12:00-1:15PM EST, middle and high school students across the country will join together electronically for a National Youth Summit on the Freedom Rides and activism at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Freedom Rides veterans Congressman John Lewis, D-GA, Diane Nash, Jim Zwerg, and Reverend James Lawson will share how they became involved in the Freedom Rides and how their lives were affected by them. They will join filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders) and scholar Raymond Arsenault to discuss the meaning of the Freedom Rides and the role of young people in shaping America’s past and future. 

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

The discussion in Washington will be joined by five audiences at Smithsonian Affiliate museums around the nation as well as by registered viewers of the webcast.  The Affiliates’ programs will be augmented by a discussion guide produced by the National Museum of American History. Each Affiliate will welcome a veteran Freedom Rider to their museums to participate in the discussion and coordinate with local schools to engage students. 

The Affiliate museums and their legendary Freedom Riders are: 

Students will be encouraged to participate in the discussion through the National Museum of American History’s email, Facebook, Twitter, and the conference portal, and will be asked to think about themselves as makers of history. 

Registration is free, and will include access to preparatory classroom materials, film clips, follow-up materials, and technical assistance. Register today! 


The National Youth Summit is presented by the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in collaboration with Smithsonian Affiliations and American Experience/WGBH.

kudos affiliates! february 2011

Affiliates start the new year off right with news of support.  Nice going!

Jack S. Parker, a former Vice Chairman of the General Electric Company, made a legacy gift to the Heard Museum’s (Phoenix, Arizona) endowment through the Maie Bartlett Heard Society, the Heard’s planned giving program. Parker’s gift included a $1 million cash annuity and a $1.6 million American Indian art collection bequest. The Heard Museum also received another significant gift with the donation of the Santa Fe Collection of Navajo Rugs from Dr. Charles and Linda Rimmer. The 77 Navajo textiles, created in the late 20th century, represent many styles hand woven by some of the most accomplished Navajo weavers.

Two Manitowoc couples and maritime enthusiasts donated $10,000 for the installation of three vintage MK-14 World War II torpedoes on the USS Cobia docked at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum (Manitowoc, Wisconsin). The project is part of the ongoing restoration of the Cobia, a restored WWII submarine on display.

The Telluride Foundation awarded $15,000 to the Pinhead Institute (Telluride, Colorado) to support its science-based educational programming.

The Miami Science Museum was awarded a $75,000 grant by Chase to implement the Girls SPICE (Science Program Inspiring Creative Exhibits) project. The grant will allow the Museum to work with Charles R. Drew Middle School’s Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Program to implement an afterschool and summer program targeted to female students in grades 7-8.

The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art (Elmhurst, Illinois) has received a $150,000 state grant to use for capital expenses related to the project to renovate and improve its Rock and Mineral Experience exhibit, which focuses on the earth sciences, lapidary arts and science.

The Citizens Bank Foundation announced a donation of $25,000 to the African American Museum in Philadelphia to underwrite the museum’s commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 17. The foundation grant will provide free admission to the museum, as well as special events, including the Citizens Bank Scavenger Hunt for Heritage designed to help children learn about the museum and African American history.

Western Heritage Center: 10 Years in Association with the Smithsonian

2011 is a big year for organizations–20 at the latest count–celebrating their 10th anniversary as Smithsonian Affiliates.  To honor these Affiliates we’ll be blogging monthly about each one as they reach this milestone.   

Almost 2,000 miles from the National Mall, Billings, Montana is home to the Western Heritage Center (WHC), one of three organizations in Montana working in association with the Smithsonian Institution. What began as a community center to display a private collection of western artifacts has grown to include nationally recognized education and outreach programs, long term exhibits with interactive components, traveling exhibits, a vast collection of historic artifacts, fine art, textiles, photographs and memorabilia, and climate controlled archival storage.  

From the very beginning, WHC jumped right in to collaborating with the Smithsonian by hosting Smithsonian Days in the Yellowstone Region, a program that featured a community celebration and a school/public lecture series from The Smithsonian Associates and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. They developed and traveled the exhibition Coming Home: The Northern Cheyenne Odyssey, that told the stories of two Northern Cheyenne bands, beginning in 1876 and continuing to the present day, and featured a Cheyenne animal hide purse on loan from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). And they’ve consistently participated in the Smithsonian Magazine’s Museum Day since 2006. 

NMAI loaned this Cheyenne animal hide bag to WHC for their exhibition, "Coming Home: The Northern Cheyenne Odyssey."

What does the future have in store for WHC? Director Julie Dial says, “We look forward to partnering with other Montana Affiliates to bring Smithsonian speakers to our communities as well as recording oral histories before the stories of our region are lost to time. Thanks to the support of wonderful people on our Board like Ralph and Pat Dixon, avid Smithsonian enthusiasts, we are able to share these types of collaborations with our visitors.” 

So, Happy 10th Anniversary Western Heritage Center! Keep that Western spirit alive and here’s to many more years of collaboration.

affiliates in the news

Congratulations to these Affiliates making headlines this week! 

Conner Prairie received the National Medal for Museum Service, a top honor for museums and libraries. (Photo Courtesy Conner Prairie)

Conner Prairie (Fishers, Indiana)
Top museum honor goes to Conner Prairie. READ MORE 

Miami Science Museum (Miami, Florida)
MiaSci receives girls’ education grant. READ MORE 

African American Museum in Philadelphia (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Citizens Bank Foundation donates $25,000, sponsors free Community Day at the African American Museum. READ MORE 

National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
A Museum Taken on Faith. READ MORE
Here’s how to navigate Philly’s newest addition. READ MORE

Montana Historical Society
(Helena, Montana)
Montana Historical Society keeps accreditation. READ MORE

U.S. Space and Rocket Center (Huntsville, Alabama)
Bobby’s Bama: U.S. Space And Rocket Center. READ MORE

food for thought

Does there seem to be a cultural zeitgeist about food these days?  Food has always been a engrossing social topic of course, but between the First Lady’s vegetable garden, school lunch revolution movements, reality TV, and more, it seems that discussions of food and all its attendant concerns – health, nutrition, benefits of organic, agriculture policy, star chefs – are raging everywhere.

Even among museums.

I was delighted to discover, in the first post of 2011 on the Center for the Future of Museum’s blog, that museums, food and community will be one of their focus themes this year.  No doubt we are all aware of and have seen many food-related exhibitions over the years, such as The Field Museum’s Chocolate show, or the Smithsonian’s own Key Ingredients: America by Food.  We’ve all experienced many collections shows related to food, foodways programs, and museum cafes that reinforce missions, such as Mitsitam at the National Museum of the American Indian.   But the specific inclusion of “community” as a component is an important one that seems to be gaining momentum and relevance in the museum field.

The CFM blog post links to an example of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Illinois.  But there are some great examples among Smithsonian Affiliates too.

Students learn about composting at Snug Harbor in NYC

At Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island in New York City, gardening is already an integral part of their identity.  Their expansive grounds house an exquisite Chinese Scholar’s Garden, and a newly-opened Tuscan Garden, both authentic replicas of their international precedents.  But their Compost program, and under-construction Sustainable Farm, are taking their commitment to gardens to the next level.

Working with the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling, Snug Harbor’s Compost Project teaches community groups, teachers, and students through tailored hands-on workshops.  In addition to exposing the benefits of composting, the workshops, classes and curricula foster a sense of environmental stewardship, uncover complex ecosystems, and explore soil and plant health.   Now, in the same plot of land that historically was farmed to feed sailors, Snug Harbor will start plantings in the spring on its own Sustainable Farm.  A brand new initiative, the farm is engendering ideas ranging from “grow a row” for classrooms, growing food for food banks, duplicating the Obama vegetable garden, and presenting exhibitions of artists who address ecosystems.   “We want to create a triangle of programming,” says Patrick Grenier, Director of Visual Arts, “that combines our gardens, the farm, and [adjacent] gallery to present exhibitions and programs about horticulture.”

LPCCD's farm sits behind the historic church facade that serves as gateway to the neighborhood

At the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District (LPCCD) in Newark, NJ, leaders have created a community farm in the iconic center of the neighborhood.  LPCCD’s mission is to transform a low-income neighborhood from blighted lots into an urban eco-arts village.  And they are doing it, in a completely holistic way.  The neighborhood being created there is a mixture of LEED-certified housing units, green collar jobs, music festivals, historic restoration projects, a gallery, and eventually, a museum honoring African American music. 

LPCCD’s community farm addresses a common issue raised in the healthy eating dialogue – that of fresh, natural food being affordable and available in low-income urban areas.  Having just finished its first year, the farm promotes community supported agriculture (CSA) that enables city residents to have direct access to affordable ($40-80 per month) organic produce.  What’s more, the choice of produce grown is customized to the area’s demographic and responds directly to what local consumers most want – mostly hearty greens, like collard and mustard.  “People appreciate the value of the farm as an avenue to promote dialogue.  They loved the space and came to share stories of their histories, their parents’ recipes.  And they loved that something was growing in Newark, especially in our neighborhood,” according to Rob Wisniewski, Director Sustainable Development.   In its second year, LPCCD plans to focus on education of the price value of the food, in terms of nutrition and environmental impact.  They also hope to get the community even more involved by directing marketing efforts specifically to neighborhood stakeholders – the local school, restaurants, and residents.  To entice participation, LPCCD hopes to offer personal plots to garden, as well as the CSA, and to tie the farm’s maintenance into their green jobs training program.

a shopper at Plymouth's Winter Farmers Market

Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA is known for its historic foodways program.  It is ground zero for Thanksgiving after all!   Just last year though, Plimoth Plantation, which closes its living history exhibits for the winter, became home to the city of Plymouth’s winter farmers’ market once a month. 

And now they are linking the farmers’ market to their mission and programming.  This year, the Plantation is asking shoppers to bring their food to a communal “Cook Like a Pilgrim” program.  Together, they will prepare and eat a meal of their local and seasonal foods, guided by the museum’s colonial foodways historian to make the whole event historically accurate and educational.  “We like to think of ourselves as the hearth of the community,” says Jennifer Monac, Plimoth Plantation’s Public Relations Manager.  “When examining the values and goals of the Farmer’s Market, it just seemed like a perfect fit to make Plimoth Plantation’s unique resources available to its participants.”  

These projects (and no doubt countless others like it) exemplify the roles that museums can and do play as good neighbors and community partners.  They reveal the creativity with which museum missions can extend beyond collections and exhibitions, using their sites and resources to fill community needs in the social and cultural fabric of their cities. And, they leave you hungry for more.

Sonoma County Museum shares local bracero stories through SITES exhibition

Juan Villa and friend performing Corridos at the "Free Family Day" at the Sonoma County Museum.

This past November, Sonoma County Museum opened the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service’s (SITES) Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 and they hoped that their local community would help bring the exhibition alive.  The museum was not disappointed.  Through a busy schedule of public events at the museum, visitors responded to the exhibition in a very personal way.  

When the National Museum of American History (NMAH) began researching the Leonard Nadel photographs that were taken to document the lives of the migrant farm workers, curators realized that they had an enormous asset to learn more about the images: the people who were there.  Many braceros are alive today, never having shared their past stories with anyone other than their immediate families.  In some cases, their children are not even aware of their pasts.  Research focused on collecting oral histories and documenting experiences of the thousands of workers that participated in this government program.  When the traveling exhibition was organized, curators hoped that each stop on its tour would yield more stories from this important chapter in American history.  Sonoma County Museum’s programs did just that.  

Oral history screen in the "Bittersweet Harvest" exhibition.

Eric Stanley, Exhibitions and Collections Curator at the Sonoma County Museum told us how they approached the programming that complemented the exhibition so well.  The museum began with video oral histories of local braceros, filmed several months before the opening.  “The oral history project was sponsored in part by a programming grant from SITES, which helped facilitate the project,” said Eric.  Eric also had the opportunity to see the NMAH installation of the exhibition, while in Washington, D.C. as a Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professional.  He was able to meet with staff who had planned programming for the original show, which inspired some facets of the installation at the Sonoma County Museum, including a hands on table at which visitors could try out some of the tools braceros used.  

The video oral histories became the centerpiece of the opening reception, which drew many of the interviewed braceros and their families.  One guest, Cruz Leon Martinez, worked as a bracero before settling in Sonoma County- where he found work in a winery.  Mr. Martinez attended with several generations of his family and guests, proud to share the video oral history with them. 

Former bracero Cruz Leon Martinez (seated with hat) and his family at the opening reception.

Sonoma County Museum also hosted a “Free Family Day” which featured live performances of corridos and other songs about labor and migration.  The standing-room only event featured a recent documentary on the Bracero Program and was well covered in the media.   Eric told us that the exhibit has been very popular with tour groups and that he has received many thank you’s from students who have visited the exhibition.  One such note says, “I want to thank you because you gave us the opportunity to go see the museum. I learned about how people were living in their past . I’m going to ask my mom to go to the museum with my sister, because I would like to see my little sister learning about our past.”  

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 is on view at the Sonoma County Museum until January 30, 2011.

All photographs courtesy Sonoma County Museum.