Affiliations National Conference 2007 and Affiliate Feedback

The Smithsonian Affiliations Conference commenced on June 5 last week after three days of meetings, tours and receptions in Washington, DC.

When it was all said and done, there were  91 staff members representing 61 Affiliates attended the conference. Registrants came from 29 states, Panama, and Puerto Rico. 

Altogether, 40% of our 153 Affiliates were represented by at least one staff member, and 74% of our locations (39 states, DC, Panama, and Puerto Rico) were represented.  25 Affiliates, or 41% sent more than one staff member, there were four Affiliates who sent either three or four staff members each.Attendees had their choice of touring among four different Smithsonian facilities.  In the formal program there were 30 presenters among 12 sessions. 

In addition, Smithsonian staff from at least 30 museums and units throughout the Institution participated in the Smithsonian Resource Fair, designed to introduce staff and resources to the Affiliate network.

Feedback from Affiliates at the “Open Mic” session on June 5:

Shawn Parker – Heritage Harbor Museum Providence RI : thanks for connecting us with other Affiliates, returning phone calls, setting up meetings

Sarah Henrich – Headley-Whitney Museum :Offering a traveling exhibition of Haydar Hatemi – an Iranian artist who paints in the 16th century tradition with prospectus availableLisa Girolami : Millard Sheets Gallery Pomona, CA: Needs traveling exhibitions of short durations – for the 4 weeks when LA County Fair is happening – short time, but gets 1.8 million people through the gallery;proposed a traveling exhibition created by Affiliates for Affiliates or if a 4-week loan is possible, let her know

Kate Schureman : Peoria IL – Lakeview Museum What is happening with search for new Secretary? And how will this affect Affiliates?

Lawrence J. Pijeaux : Birmingham National Civil Rights Museum –New affiliate : thank you to Harold and his staff

Nancy Bell : VA Museum of Natural History – ask for the elevator speech on what it means to be an Affiliate:“Long-term partnership between SI and Affiliate museums and organizations  to bring SI outside DC and allow people to experience SI in their own communities without having to travel to DC – establish that long-term partnership”

Suggestion: Harold Closter director, should send  a letter  to Affiliates 2-3 times a year to place in newsletters as a personal message to members -Ohio Affiliate

Suggestion : at conference, have peer groups get together to identify issues within their museums and with Affiliates Suggestion – post on Affiliations Web site a list of traveling exhibitions that are available from Affiliates Suggestion – Post confernece participants on the Affiliate only web site – get list of conference participants ahead of time – have each participant list the current challenges of their museum and little bios – then could contact people ahead of time - Lider Sucre Museum of Biodiversity


Suggestion: people are hungry for anything from SI – identify a small group of objects from each museum – put together a catalog of these objects (already conserved and with traveling crates and therefore, ready to go) for Affiliates to tap into in order to borrow

SITES: Why areAffiliates not given preferential treatment for SITES exhibitions and how can Affiliations assist with this?  


Book cover

Spring 2007

Can you believe it’s May already?! Here’s a sampling of some fun Smithsonian activity from this spring.

lost world.jpg Who Knew?

Historian Heather Ewing just published The Lost World of James Smithson, which fills in a lot of the details of his life. The book reveals “not the dour recluse historians had once thought Smithson to be but an exuberant if eccentric man with a zeal for learning and for life.” That seems appropriate as the profile our first benefactor!

by Elaine Heuman Gurian Civilizing the Museum

Smithsonian staff were treated to a recent lecture by museum theorist, professor and guru Elaine Heumann Gurian, speaking on her new book of collected essays, Civilizing the Museum. Issues like sharing authority and maximizing our relevance in the current climate of “Internet 2.0” provided hearty food for thought.

object-gif.jpg Have you seen this new project from the Museum of American History?

A partnership between NMAH and George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, The Object of History site provides a way for students and teachers of U.S. History to have access to the Museum’s collections and the expertise of its curators. Meet the designers/programmers from George Mason at the Affiliations Conference this summer, and learn how to do it yourself!

MAAM_BM07_banner.jpg Building a Museum?

Affiliations staff attended the Building Museums conference a few months ago. This annual conference is one-stop shopping for all issues related to building, expanding or renovating Museums.  Lots of stellar examples! – including a unique cultural and fundraising partnership in Chattanooga. If you are interested in any of the white papers, session topics or speaker bios – let us know, we’ve got all the peripheral material on a cd.

So how was your spring?! Feel free to share…. and hope to see you soon at the Affiliations Conference !

Webby Awards

Kudos to our Smithsonian colleagues who are nominated for a webby award, hailed as “the Oscars of the Internet.” Please go online and vote for them at!!!

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies is the Institution’s central education website.
– Nominated for Best Cultural Institution Website (Society category)
– Selected as an Official Honoree in the category of Best Education Website

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s People’s Design Award
Cooper-Hewitt’s People’s Design Award allows website users to make their design voice heard by nominating and voting for examples of good design.
– Nominated for Best Art Website (Entertainment category)
– Selected as an Official Honoree in the category of Best Cultural Institution Website.

Smithsonian Photography Initiative

The Smithsonian Photography Initiative exists to broaden public understanding and appreciation of photography at the Smithsonian.
– Nominated for Best Cultural Insititution Website (Society category)

In addition, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s main website and the Feeding Desire: Design and Tools of the Table, 1500-2005 exhibition site have been selected as Official Honorees in the Art and Best Navigation/Structure categories.
The Smithsonian’s American Art Museum’s “Del Corazon! Latino Voices in American Art” website has been selected as an Official Honoree in the category of Best Education website.

Congratulations to all!

Conference ideas

Affiliations staff have the privilege of attending regional museum conferences throughout the year, which help to keep us in touch with potential issues facing affiliates.  This year, affiliations staff have attended at least six regional conferences across the nation.  

As expected, the conferences offered tons of ideas and stimulated the energy to try them!  We’ll be sharing those ideas in preparation for the Affiliations conference June 3-5, 2007.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of the most striking ideas I heard.

The question that stays with me still from my conference-attending this year was, how can museums become more like libraries, which are, more and more, taking on the role as the true civic centers of our time?

This is not an abstract concept – in my travels last year from Grand Lake, Colorado to New Milford, Connecticut, “LIBRARY” meant the same thing, almost like a brand.  Seek out the library in whatever town you’re in, and you already know that you can check email with free internet access;  a bulletin board will announce community events that might be of interest;  you can work on a report or budget if necessary at one of the computers, even if it’s old;  you can check out headlines through local and major papers;  you can get a flavor of the local community through the exhibitions or children’s work on view;  and most importantly, if you just want quiet to prepare or unwind, there’s no better place – a Starbucks can’t even provide that.  And the other great thing about libraries – they are centrally located and there are an appropriate number of them; competition among them seems irrelevant. 

Of course museums have different missions, and different contraints, from libraries.  But in general, libraries are easy to find, always free and reliable, and accessible and welcoming to all ages, races and classes.  Imagine if we could describe the nation’s museums in similar terms?!

I kept thinking about this at other conferences, and attended meetings on ‘mainstreaming’ and ‘contemporary anthropology’ which posed great ideas – let’s make gift cards for our museums available at the local Target or grocery store.  Let’s stop dictating what a “family” membership entails, when 75% of American families are nontraditional.  Let’s use data on generational values to influence programming, building in community service to our family events. 

So let’s hear it – what ideas did you garner from conferences this year?  What would you like to see at the Affiliations conference?!

Smithsonian Teachers Night logo

Smithsonian Teachers’ Night

si_teachers_night_2006_sm.gif    Thanks to our local affiliates who made the Affiliations table at Smithsonian Teachers’ Night such a smashing success!!  Over 1600 teachers attended Friday night’s event (October 20), and Affiliations staff could hardly keep up with their zeal for materials!

We had a nice sampling of American history resources – a lesson plan website on the French and Indian War from the Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center;  history labs information from the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar; information on the new education center and programs at George Washington’s Mount Vernon; and a wealth of African American history resources from the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. 

We also had a nice smattering of science, with field trip information from the Virginia Museum of Natural History and school tours and programs from the National Museum of Dentistry.

While the overwhelming majority of teachers were from DC, Maryland and Virginia, we met a principal from California that we could send to the Blackhawk Museum, and a teacher from southern Colorado that we encouraged to visit the Pinhead Institute. 

Mental note for next time – any giveaway (in this case, apple-shaped stress balls from the Reginald Lewis Museum) will go faster than any other thing on the table, so bring twice as many as you think you’ll need!

Judging exhibitions

Every quarter, educators from across the Smitsonian meet for an “exchange” of ideas around a common topic of interest. Last week I attended my first educators’ exchange, where we deconstructed the National Museum of Natural History’s Mammal Hall. We were trying out the theories of Beverly Serrell, whose new book, Judging Exhibitions: A Framework for Assessing Excellence provided parameters, criteria, and a scoring system.

NMNH's Mammal Hall Tiger in NMNH's Mammal Hall While this may sound a little formulaic (an exhibition is not an algebra problem after all), in practice of course, it is not – we discovered wildly varied responses to the same stimuli. Some of my collegues came away knowing more about the basics of being a mammal than they ever had, while others found the display somewhat too textbook-like. And so on.

It was worthwhile and enjoyable to me though, to subject an exhibition to these questions, even if we can’t agree on the results. I was forced to confront my “meaning of life” -type questions of why I go to museums in the first place, and what do I expect from them? What are my core values in spending my time this way? Ok, Museum 101. But aren’t these questions worth re-asking ourselves, and our exhibition teams, from time to time?

I do want an exhibition to challenge my thinking. Going with very simple ideas is ok, unless they are simple to a fault. I find successful interactives to be those that redirect my focus back to critical observation of objects to illuminate a point (that I could otherwise read in a book.) Low-tech (crawling under a tree trunk to see how squirrels live) is as, if not more, effective than computers and video. No, you can’t please every audience demographic. But little gestures to those outside the core target audience are significant and not difficult. Do you agree or are your values different?

My favorite comment was about majesty. To hear Smithsonian scientists talk about their work is to hear inspiration; they are professionals who truly love what they do. Translating passion into physical space is a lofty goal for which any exhibition should strive. That the Hall of Mammals achieved a level of majesty, a passionate spectacular majesty, is something on which we all could agree.