Applying for Affiliation

Smithsonian Affiliations creates long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with museums and other cultural and educational organizations to fulfill the Smithsonian’s mission, “the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” and to advance both the Smithsonian’s Strategic Plan and the SITES | Smithsonian Affiliations Strategic Plan. Core to our work is catalyzing public engagement, sparking curiosity and learning, and ultimately inspiring a deeper understanding of our world and how it can be changed for the better.

Please review all of the information below as you determine if a Smithsonian Affiliation is right for your organization.

As you consider whether Smithsonian Affiliations is right for your organization, we encourage you to explore the Learning Excursions page. Here you can see examples of successful Affiliate collaborations and gain a better understanding of the opportunities associated with being an Affiliate. You can also learn more about the things that interest and excite Affiliations—and the Smithsonian—and how we use our work to:

  • Underscore the importance of local stories in understanding national stories
  • Contribute local perspectives on national and global issues
  • Inspire lifelong learning
  • Connect and strengthen the nation’s rich and diverse museums and cultural organizations
  • Promote innovative and best practices for museum professionals

After reviewing the resources in the Learning Excursions pages, and if you are thinking about applying, we encourage you to contact the Smithsonian Affiliations office. The knowledge and expertise of our talented and dedicated staff, coupled with the information shared on the Learning Excursions pages, can help your organization assess whether Affiliation is right for you.

Smithsonian Affiliations is looking for engaged collaborators. What do we mean by “engaged”? It’s simple. We are looking for organizations that work with us on a regular basis to bring Smithsonian content, resources, and expertise to their communities in relevant and innovative ways.

  • Engaged Affiliates take advantage of the broad range of opportunities available, from capacity building and consultation, to professional development, branding, and membership, to public programming and exhibitions
  • Engaged Affiliates deepen their relationship over time and work with Affiliations to identify opportunities to continue to bring the Smithsonian’s unique assets and expertise to their communities, year after year
  • Engaged Affiliates maintain communication with the Affiliations team and recognize that communication is a two-way street
  • Engaged Affiliates educate their full staff on what it means to be a Smithsonian Affiliate and the benefits and opportunities available as part of the relationship
  • Engaged Affiliates give back to the Smithsonian and fellow Affiliates by offering their own expertise, ideas, and resources
  • Engaged Affiliates use the Affiliate logo, alongside programs and other activities, to promote and leverage their connection to the Smithsonian

Affiliates that get the most out of their association with the Smithsonian—and contribute the most back to the Affiliate network—have both the financial and staff capacity across their organization to engage regularly with the Smithsonian on a range of different activities. Each Smithsonian Affiliate pays a $3,000 annual fee. In addition, there are costs to participate in programs and activities with Smithsonian museums and research centers. These fees are separate from and are not reduced by the Affiliations fee. Charges by Smithsonian museums and programs vary depending on the type and scope of collaborative activities. As examples, travel, lodging, and per diem are required to bring curators, educators, and others to present public programs, conduct training, and provide professional consultation. Traveling exhibitions can have rental fees, as well as costs associated with insurance, packing and shipping, conservation, copyright clearances, installation and de-installation, security, and travel.

Affiliates enjoy a range of exclusive benefits:

  • A Dedicated Team
    The Smithsonian is a big place. The team at Smithsonian Affiliations can help you navigate it. We connect Affiliates with resources and opportunities that support their needs and goals, while also supporting Smithsonian priorities.
  • Collaborative Funding
    The Affiliations team actively seeks out funding that enables us to award modest financial support to Affiliates to work with the Smithsonian on specific education programs, typically connected to Smithsonian-wide priorities. In the past two years, we have awarded more than $400,000 to 60+ Affiliates to conduct or participate in programs in collaboration with Smithsonian colleagues on diverse topics such as astrophotography, women’s history, climate change, the Puerto Rican diaspora, paleontology and evolution, and creating digital access to collections. Note that funding is available only for select projects and awarded through a competitive process; not all Affiliates that express interest in an opportunity may receive funding.
  • Professional Development
    Affiliates enjoy robust professional development opportunities. The annual Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference offers networking, inspiring sessions, and access to Smithsonian and Affiliate colleagues. Office Hours allow Affiliates to connect with one another in an informal, virtual setting to discuss current issues, exchange ideas, and collectively brainstorm and problem-solve. The Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program is offered periodically and offers selected candidates a stipend to develop their professional skills through an immersive, cohort-based experience.
  • Special Access
    We can connect you with Smithsonian staff or other Affiliates who can share expertise, provide capacity building support, and more.
  • Smithsonian Channel films
    Affiliates have exclusive access to screen—at no charge—select films produced by the Smithsonian Channel.
  • National Promotion
    Only Affiliates can use the Smithsonian Affiliate logo and tagline, “in association with the Smithsonian Institution.” Affiliations works to promote Affiliates and their collaborations , through electronic publications, its blog, and social media, particularly as these activities support Smithsonian initiatives.
  • Membership Benefits
    Affiliates have the exclusive opportunity to offer discounted Smithsonian membership to their members. Affiliate Reciprocal Membership Benefits are also available, connecting members at participating Affiliates to the broader Affiliate network.

Any organization, regardless of Affiliation status, may request to borrow objects from the Smithsonian, rent traveling exhibitions, and take advantage of educational programs and resources. The Affiliations team can make it easier by connecting Affiliates directly to Smithsonian scholars, scientists, educators, and others to lead lectures, workshops, professional development, and more. We can help to identify unique exhibition opportunities for Affiliates to share with their communities. We can also help navigate the object loan process, though decisions about loans lie exclusively with the lending museum. Affiliation does not guarantee preference in borrowing objects, and each Smithsonian museum makes its own decisions on loans based on their specific policies and priorities.

You can view Smithsonian collections through the Smithsonian Collections Search Center and learn more about the loan process by contacting a museum directly. You can visit the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) to learn about available exhibitions and educational resources.

In addition to understanding the benefits and opportunities of being a Smithsonian Affiliate, it’s also important to be familiar with our policies. For example, to become a Smithsonian Affiliate, an organization must have a physical location where it currently provides services or activities for the public and must be open to the public on a consistent and predictable schedule. Organizations under development, not yet open or temporarily closed to the public are not eligible. Affiliates must be non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3) designations and current Form 990s on file with the IRS, or public institutions associated with state or local governments.

Read the full policy to help you determine if Affiliations is right for your organization.

Organizations interested in affiliating with the Smithsonian must submit an online application to Smithsonian Affiliations. After applications are received, a committee of Smithsonian and Affiliate leaders, along with others who have broad knowledge and understanding of museums and cultural organizations, reviews and assesses each application, using a standard rubric as a guide. The committee then convenes to discuss the applications and provide recommendations about which organizations are best positioned to be engaged Affiliates. The Director of SITES | Smithsonian Affiliations makes the final decisions about acceptance. All applicants are notified about the status of their application at the conclusion of this process.

New Affiliate applications are accepted approximately every 18 months. The next deadline for new Affiliate applications is March 25, 2022.

For the next application cycle, preference will be given to organizations:

  • In states where we do not currently have Affiliates (Idaho, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Utah)
  • That have previously worked with the Smithsonian on research, exhibition development, collections sharing, educational program development or in other professional capacities
  • With strong research, collections, exhibition, and/or educational programs in the Smithsonian’s current priority topic areas, including Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past, Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, and Earth Optimism 
  • With specific ideas for collaboration with one or more Smithsonian museums or research centers

If you have reviewed the Learning Excursions pages, spoken with the Affiliations team, and feel you are ready to apply, please review this PDF to understand the specific information and documentation you’ll need for your application. Please gather your documents before beginning the online form. PLEASE NOTE: Once you have started the form you cannot save it and return later.

You can submit your application here.

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Two people pose holding a framed certificate of Smithsonian Affiliation

Staff at Grinnell College accept a Certificate of Affiliation during their Smithsonian Affiliation announcement. Photo courtesy Grinnell College.