Collaboration is Key

Thanks to Nancy Crane, Director of Education, Culture & Heritage Museums, for this guest post.  


After hearing Lonnie Bunch, Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), speak on the topic of collaboration at the 2007 Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference, we knew that we would like to work and collaborate with this new and forward-looking Smithsonian museum in the future.  I mentally filed away many of Mr. Bunch’s comments and ideas as well as the overall vision of the NMAAHC, which specifically addresses collaboration as a core value of the institution.  Indeed, on the homepage of the NMAACH’s website, “collaboration” is one of the main tabs along with collections, education, etc.   The opportunity to work with NMAAHC and our fellow Carolinas’ Smithsonian Affiliates presented itself this spring as part of a joint state museum conference between North and South Carolina.   Working with the staff at NMAAHC and the Affiliations Office, we were able to bring Dr. Rex Ellis to the Carolinas on March 4-5, to present both an afternoon workshop and to deliver the keynote address for the conference.  Dr. Ellis presented an outstanding program focusing on the challenges of interpreting slavery.  His presentation provided his audience of museum staff and volunteers with much food for thought – challenging us to consider different perspectives.  His keynote address was equally stimulating as he wove song, personal stories, and professional experience into an elegant vision for the future of museums. 

Not only was the conference a collaboration between states, but in order to bring Dr. Ellis, we reached out to our Smithsonian Affiliates in the Carolinas for their support.  The Carolinas’ Smithsonian Affiliates came forward and helped to support this initiative both monetarily as well as through staff attendance.  We hope that this may be the beginning of more inter-Affiliate collaborations.

In these difficult economic times, collaborations are one tool which we can utilize to better serve our communities.  Reflect on your institution’s current collaborations as potential partnerships for the future

To put it plainly, you can never have too many friends.

The Other 90% in Atlanta

Thanks to Louise Shaw, Curator, Global Health Odyssey Museum, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for this guest post.

Photo credit: Jim Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As curator of the Global Health Odyssey Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] in Atlanta, I had the challenging and exciting task of designing and installing Design for the Other 90%. This traveling exhibit was curated by Cynthia Smith of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City, and “features more than 30 projects that reflect a growing movement among designers, engineers, and social entrepreneurs to create low-cost solutions for everyday problems,” targeting 90% of the world’s 6.5 billion people who “have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted.”

Context is everything.

As one of the world’s leading public health agencies, CDC is committed to achieving true improvements in all people’s lives, and we walk the walk. This explains why the Global Health Odyssey Museum was interested in mounting Design for the Other 90%. At CDC, we believe that poverty, whether abroad or in the U.S., is directly linked to health gaps, disproportionately affecting certain populations, as well as geographic regions. Any effort to improve global health must also holistically address issues of education; shelter; access to water, food, and technology; affordable transportation; economic opportunities; and sustainability.

So, what an opportunity Design for the Other 90% has been. We are engaging with CDC staff members who actually have been deeply involved in the issues brought up in the exhibit, as well as the evaluation and distribution of some of the design objects on display. The exhibit has also drawn tremendous interest from educational institutions such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Savannah College of Art and Design, and from the entire Atlanta design community.

Because the original installation was mounted totally outside on the CH’s grounds, each host institution was tasked to create a new and unique design plan, and fabricate its own exhibit display elements. We had a great time figuring out how to display objects ranging from a latrine slab used in refugee camps in East Africa to a house for the homeless made by the Atlanta-based Mad Housers to treated bednets. Our entire design and fabrication team really rose to the occasion, using warehouse crates for pedestals, building floor trays to display objects such as water pumps, and even appropriating a piece of 1000-pound concrete as a base for a 12′ solar lamp post!

At the end of the day, by highlighting innovative designs meant to improve the lives of all, we have been able to acknowledge our collective responsibility for both solutions and actions. Like the previous hosts of the exhibit–the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada–we are committed to exploring issues of social change and justice that will allow the world’s populations to live the best lives possible.

To learn more about this exhibition and its travel schedule, visit it online at 
or email Cynthia Smith at  

Kansas City – Jazz, BBQ and Beyond

Thanks to Andrew Zender, Director of Communications at the American Jazz Museum, for this guest post.

18th & Vine, Kansas City.  Photo credit: Diallo French

Born in America, jazz is our nation’s only indigenous art form and one of our greatest treasures.  Kansas City is one of the important incubators of jazz, and within its borders is one of the greatest crossroads of American music and culture: 18th & Vine.

From the swinging clubs and the all-night jam sessions to the exciting Negro Leagues baseball games, 18th & Vine was buzzing with a unique force, a scene ripe with riffs, built upon jumpin’ jazz blended with blues, Bird’s blossoming bebop – and Kansas City’s signature swing.

However, there were many other equally important aspects of life in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District – people and places that were woven into the social fabric that made 18th & Vine and a legendary spot forever immortalized in song and in the memories of folks who worked, lived and played here, some of whose stories are still to be told – until now.

Recognizing a need for the recording and preservation of dozens of untold oral histories that chronicle an incredibly important period of American life, the American Jazz Museum, one of the cultural anchors of the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District, has launched a new initiative aimed at capturing theses stories in a series entitled Stories from the Vine.

Featuring compelling narratives of life at 18th & Vine during its golden age from community members, local scholars/historians and other special guests, Stories from the Vine is designed to reveal new insights, provide a public forum and record testimonies documenting the rich legacy of the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District.

Using the District as a backdrop, Stories from the Vine will explore a variety of topics ranging from music and sports to business and politics, highlighting the role of 18th & Vine in Kansas City as an incredible hub of culture, commerce and entertainment. 

The program kicked off in February 2009 with three sessions exploring Black History Month, and will continue in March focusing on Women’s History Month and Women in Jazz. April sessions will be centered on the nationwide celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month.  Community members are invited to attend the free sessions and encouraged to share their own memories, which will be professionally audio/video recorded for compilation and future public exhibition. 

The Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District’s legacy is held up by two separate but deeply intertwined pillars – jazz and baseball – but there are many more layers to be uncovered in order to reveal a complete history.  The accounts of the local community are integral to nurturing a historical record that primarily remains carried on through oral tradition. 

The knowledge and appreciation gained from Stories from the Vine are invaluable in establishing a comprehensive, engaging and fully accessible permanent record of Kansas City as well as American musical and cultural history.

(More information on this program is available online at or by calling the American Jazz Museum at 816-474-8463).



Jewish Museum “Steels” Spotlight

 Thanks to Ilana Blumenthal, Public Relations Associate at NMAJH for this guest blog post.    

NMAJH staff.jpg

With the sun in our eyes, frostbite nearly setting in, and huge grins on our faces, the staff and board members of the National Museum of American Jewish History watched as the final 31-foot steel beam was placed on the northwest corner of the 121-foot and six-inch high, 100,000-square-foot, five story new Museum building. This traditional steel workers “topping off” ceremony took place on a 20-degree day on January 21, completing a significant milestone for the building being constructed on Independence Mall in Philadelphia that will serve as a cornerstone of the modern-day Jewish community.

Designed by Polshek Partnership Architects of New York, the new Museum will be in the heart of historic Philadelphia and will join Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and other landmarks at the site of America’s birth. The new Museum will open in 2010.

Prior to being hoisted with banners from the Museum, Ironworkers Local Union 401, and INTECH Construction Inc., the Museum’s contractor, ironworkers, staff, board, and INTECH employees signed their names on the beam as a sign of pride, accomplishment, and ownership. Atop the beam sits an American flag and evergreen tree (not to be confused with a Christmas tree), traditional symbols of the ironworkers’ceremony.

With the steel structure finished, the next steps for the building will be pouring its concrete floors and the construction of the north and west walls. The west wall facing Independence Mall will be a glass prism, expressing the accessibility of the museum and the openness of America, as well as the perennial fragility of democracy. The north wall will be constructed of terra cotta, expressing the strength of Jewish survival and the protective shelter of American freedom.

“With this phase of the construction complete, and as the Museum takes shape on Independence Mall, I think it becomes clear that there could not be a more fitting place for a museum that will explore the promise and challenges of liberty through the lens of the American Jewish experience,” said Gwen Goodman, the NMAJH’s Executive Director/CEO.

The new National Museum of American Jewish History will be the first and only major museum dedicated to chronicling the American Jewish experience. It will explore the challenges of identity and assimilation they faced and celebrate the contributions they have made to every facet of American life. The Museum is dedicated to telling the still unfolding story of Jews in America – who embraced freedom with its choices and challenges as they shaped, and were shaped by, our nation. The Museum envisions its new home as a place that welcomes all people, inviting them to discover what they have in common with the Jewish experience in America, and to explore the features that make this history distinctive.

raising NMAJH.jpg

 high steel NMAJH.jpg


Our Journeys Our Stories in New York

Our Journeys at LIM Many thanks to Joshua Ruff, History Curator and Betsy Radecki, Educator, from the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook, NY for this post.  This is the first of what we hope will be many! guest authored posts from Affiliates about Smithsonian experiences at their sites.

                                          The Long Island Museum is thrilled to be hosting the SITES exhibit Our Journeys/Our Stories:  Portraits of Latino Achievement, through June 8.  We opened the exhibit with a gala reception attended by guests from the Smithsonian and sponsor Ford Motor Company along with museum members and local political and social leaders.  Guests toured the exhibit, feasted on fantastic ethnic food and listened to a Uruguayan musical ensemble. 

One of the things we often try to do with traveling exhibits is to add a local dimension or theme.  In Our Journeys, we have added three Long Island Latino achievers and attempted to mirror all of the technical features of the rest of the exhibit – the same graphic design, same framing/matting – to make our section seem to fit seamlessly into the larger whole.  This can be a little more difficult than it seems at first – the colors and finish of the panels from different graphic designers are subtly different, for example – but it came out great and SITES helped us with all the translations.

Latino teacher workshopOn March 18, 40 teachers attended a staff development      workshop and brainstormed lesson plans to use both in the classroom and at the exhibit.   During the coming months the teachers will be bringing nearly 2000 students to the exhibit.  We are very excited about the May 4 free family festival, which will include Latino foods, music, stories and dance, all provided by artists and vendors from the local community. In order to promote the festival, we are partnering with a local library to make April “Hispanic Heritage Month” and are sponsoring both a morning storytelling session for children and an evening music      program for families at the library. To make it easier for visitors to get to the museum, we have arranged to provide buses from area libraries and service organizations.  The festival will also include tours of the exhibit and a chance for families to record their own journeys through videotaped interviews.

I had the pleasure of attending the opening, and was also so impressed upon meeting the many members of the Museum’s “Local Committee of Honor.” Latinos from all sectors of the community including nonprofit health organizations, foreign language teachers, businesspeople and more, celebrated with the Museum and brought the show’s message to the community at large.  Congratulations all!

If you have a Smithsonian experience you’d like to share with other Affiliates, let us know!!