Remembering America’s Real War of Independence

Most of us know little about the War of 1812.  What were its causes, when did it start, who were its heroes and how did it end?  If we remember anything at all, it may be the burning of Washington, D.C., the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry – the event that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem – and perhaps Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans (fought two weeks after the signing of the treaty that ended the war).  For most of us the rest is a long-forgotten chapter in dusty old textbooks.  An upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will assemble a remarkable number of paintings and artifacts from the War of 1812 in an effort to remind us that it was this war that completed the unfinished business of the American Revolution and secured our true independence from the British, once and for all. 

The Star Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

As the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 approaches, two artifacts stand out as enduring symbols of this era:  the original Star Spangled Banner, on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the USS Constitution, the victorious naval vessel, still commissioned and now docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. 

The USS Constitution near the USS Constitution Museum in Boston. Photo by Smithsonian Affiliations.

On October 20, I had the honor of announcing our new Affiliation with the USS Constitution Museum, thus symbolically joining these two great artifacts into one family.  Both tell us much about the sacrifices of prior generations and the many hardships endured along the road to freedom. Both are also amazing examples of the combined efforts of generations of concerned citizens, public officials, historians and museum professionals to preserve these precious legacies  of our nation’s early and fragile years. 

We hope that the upcoming Bicentennial of the War of 1812 will draw further attention to the work that museums are doing to preserve our nation’s past and draw lessons for our future.  Are there any War of 1812 stories, artifacts, or historic landmarks in your communities?  Let us hear from you so that we can work together to present the fullest picture of this critical part of our history. 

Harold A. Closter
See more photos from Harold’s visit to the museum here.

Smithsonian Affiliations Director, Harold Closter, with USS Constitution commanding officers. Photo by Smithsonian Affiliations.

coming up in affiliateland in september 2011

Fall is underway in Affiliateland!

The Challenger Space Center opens the National Air & Space Museum’s In Plane View: Abstractions of Flight in Peoria, 9/2.

Senator John Heinz History Center displays four artifacts from the National Museum of American History in its Stars & Stripes: An American Story exhibition in Pittsburgh, 9/10.

Bill Fitzhugh, archeologist from the National Museum of Natural History, will give a public lecture on Genghis Khan at the Irving Arts Center in Irving, 9/10.

The National Museum of Natural History’s Dr. Valerie Paul gives a talk at the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach, 9/10.

The South Florida Museum, Tampa Bay History Center, and the Frost Art Museum will be represented at the Florida Association of Museums for an Affiliations Session in Sarasota, 9/20.

The Museum of Arts & Sciences will host the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Daytona Beach, 9/23.

The Riverside Metropolitan Museum will host Smithsonian Citizen Science Week in Riverside, 9/20.

More than 80 Affiliates take part in Smithsonian Magazine’s Museum Day, 9/24.


Staff on the Road @ fall museum conferences

As we look ahead to conference season, we wanted to share with our Affiliates the schedules of the conferences that Affiliations staff members will be attending.  We’d love for you to come out and visit with us, or share this information with other colleagues you’d like us to meet!

August 3-6, Tallahassee, Florida: National Outreach Manager Alma Douglas will attend the 2011 Association of African American Museums Annual Conference. 

September 20-23, Tampa, Florida: National Outreach Manager Alma Douglas will participate in a panel discussion at the 2011 Florida Association of Museums Annual Conference.  She and staff from three Florida Affiliates (The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University , Tampa Bay History Center and South Florida Museum and Parker Manatee Aquarium) will discuss the “Benefits of Smithsonian Affiliation.”

October, 25-27, Greenville, South Carolina: External Affairs Manager Christina DiMeglio Lopez and National Outreach Manager Caroline Mah will host a session and exhibitor’s booth at the Southeastern Museums Conference.  Joining them will be staff from Smithsonian Affiliates in the Southeast. 

November 16-18, Harford, Connecticut: Assistant Secretary for Education and Access Claudine Brown will present as a keynote speaker at the New England Museum Association on the topic of, “Museums in the Mirror: Reflecting Relevance in a Diverse Society.”  Smithsonian Affiliations will sponsor a snack break on the first day of the conference hosted by National Outreach Manager, Jennifer Brundage. 

Hope to see you on the road!



The Smithsonian – It Plays in Peoria!

But, will it play in Peoria?”  This time-honored question from vaudeville days still stands as the benchmark of quality and success.  Whether politics or culture, the discriminating folks of this central Illinois riverfront city continue to have great sway over things that matter. 

Photo by John E. Barrett, courtesy of The Jim Henson Company. Kermit the Frog © The Muppets Studio, LLC.

Thanks to our Smithsonian Affiliate colleagues at Peoria’s Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian not only “plays in Peoria” but bags a big “boffo!”  Two great Smithsonian exhibitions now embellish the walls of the Lakeview Museum, drawing visitors and appreciative audiences from near and far.  In Plane View:  Abstractions of Flight is a series of masterpiece photographs shot and curated by National Air and Space Museum (NASM) photographer Carolyn Russo.  Russo finds the hidden design details in NASM’s collection of planes and spacecraft, making us look at these marvelous machines from a strikingly original aesthetic, each image provoking a new “Aha!” moment.  Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, put together by the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service, recaps 50 years of “Aha!” moments, as it celebrates the creative genius of the person who changed the world with a philosophical frog, a sassy pig, and a voracious cookie-eating beast.   

The Peoria Falcon on loan from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Both exhibits flank the long-term loan of the Peoria Falcon, a stunning artifact from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.  Acquired by John Wesley Powell prior to his illustrious career at the Smithsonian, this Native American copper adornment links Peoria to its past, while providing multiple paths to learn about the region, its land, and its people. 

If all this were not enough, I had the pleasure of joining Jane Henson, co-creator of The Muppets and Jim’s lifelong collaborator, for a series of presentations at the Lakeview Museum on February 24 and 25.  Jane’s audiences had the opportunity to see rare film clips and gain special insights into Henson’s creative process.  During the Q&A, many spoke of the enduring influence of these works on their own lives.  

Local puppeteer meets Jane Henson at Lakeview Museum.

We are grateful to Lakeview Museum director Jim Richerson and his accomplished staff for fulfilling the goal of the Smithsonian Affiliations program by bringing the Smithsonian into the local community in so many impressive ways.  And thank you to all our friends in Peoria by voting with your feet in favor of these collaborations.  Saying that the Smithsonian “played in Peoria” is a compliment we wear with pride.   So keep up the good work Affiliates everywhere and “on with the show!” 

Harold A. Closter
Smithsonian Affiliations

Supermarine Spitfire from the "In Plane View" exhibition. Photo by Carolyn Russo.

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.

naturalist center expands its branches

The York County Culture and Heritage Museums are on a roll! Just a few months ago, the Museum of York County celebrated its 60th Anniversary by opening its first Naturalist Center, modeled after the Smithsonian’s Naturalist Center. And just a few weeks ago, the they added a new museum, the Main Street Children’s Museum.

Naturalist Center.

The Museum of York County received assistance in developing the Naturalist Center from the manager of the Smithsonian’s Naturalist Center, Richard Efthim. The center provides a unique and engaging atmosphere for inquiry-based learning. It brings students, teachers, artists and others who are interested in natural history together with collections of objects, scientific equipment, technology, books and references.   The center is filled with taxidermy animals such as lions, Cape buffalo and a giraffe. In addition to a painstakingly detailed, wildlife-filled African plains recreation, visitors can touch more than 1,000 specimens such as the skulls of big cats and buffalo hooves.   Center Curator of Natural History, Steve Fields, encourages visitors to open drawers filled with fossils and other specimens and handle them for closer inspection.  Teachers are encouraged to bring their students to the center to apply their lesson plans using some of the specimens from the collection. The Naturalist Center at the Museum of York County provides a hands-on, discovery-based approach to learning using hundreds of natural history specimens, many of which are on view to the public for the first time. Participants may enjoy self-guided discovery and educational programs and handle mounted specimens, skins, skulls, rocks, minerals, and fossils from all corners of the globe.   

Main Street Children's Museum.

The new Main Street Children’s Museum opened to the public on December 2, 2010.  Smithsonian Affiliations’ Director, Harold Closter, was present to give remarks. The design of the Main Street Children’s Museum was inspired by the artworks of late local artist Vernon Grant.  The museum serves as a center for early childhood education, with a focus on infants to age 6.  Children are encouraged to utilize their creative and developmental skills through interactive exhibits and role-playing with audio and visual experiences. Some highlights of these exhibits include: an interactive Tree House, where children can climb to new heights; a Baby Pumpkin filled with toys and areas of seating; a Dress Up Vault, where children dress up in costumes and learn to role-play; a Sailing Ship, where children can engage in several sailing related activities; and lastly a Train Table with wooden building blocks and train sets to engage the future engineers!

The York County Culture and Heritage Museums’ activity with the Smithsonian doesn’t stop there. Now they are in the planning stages to build a new Records Center that will house the museum’s archives and collections. Latasha Richards, collections manager, will visit the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. to meet with staff at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery to learn more about space planning, organizing, and moving in January 2011. Check the Affiliate blog in January for a recap of her visit.