Director developments at the Smithsonian

The National Museum of the American Indian named its new director, Kevin Gover.  Mr. Gover grew up in Oklahoma and is a member of the Pawnee Tribe.  He is a professor of law at Arizona State University, an affiliate professor in its American Indian Studies Program, and co-executive director of its American Indian Policy Institute.  Prior to his career in the west, Mr. Gover served as the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior in the late ’90s, and was responsible for policy and operational oversight of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Welcome Kevin!

 Kevin Gover  Kevin Gover

Olga Viso, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, announced her resignation, effective at the end of this year.  Ms. Viso will be taking the director position at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.  Ms. Viso was at the Hirshhorn for 12 years, rising from assistant curator to director, and engaging in significant board and strategic planning initiatives.  Good luck Olga! 

 Olga Viso  Olga Viso

So many announcements!

Whew!  it’s hard to keep up with all the great new developments and announcements that have been advertised recently on the Affiliations list, so here are the synopses again…


canal.jpg Building America’s Canals by the National Canal Museum (affiliate) & the Science Museum of MN
Ideal for children’s history and science museums, the interactive exhibition puts the visitor in the role of canal engineer.  1600 square feet, $6,500 per 13-week period, plus inbound shipping.  Dates available from October 2009.

Soul Soldiers Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era by the Senator John Heinz History Center (affiliate)
Explores the impact of the Vietnam War on African American life and culture through  artifacts, photographs and more.  2600 square feet, $12,500 for 12-week period, plus prorated transport, medium security.  Dates available from February 2008

Artists in Studios Artists in their Studios from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art
55 framed original photographs of American artists in their studios, and approximately 20 related documents including letters & unpublished writings.  There’s a companion book, speaker list, and bibliography.  150 running feet,  $10,000 per 10-week period, prorated shipping with a AAA designated carrier, medium security.

SEEC  SEEC workshop, September 25-26
A two-day seminar for museum professionals, “Learning Through Objects: Museums and Young Children” at the Smithsonian, $300 for affiliates.

Holidays  Holidays on Display, lecture and booksigning by American History curator Larry Bird
Bird’s newest book traces the art and industry of holiday displays.  Dates in October, November, early December.  Cost is airfare, accommodations, and a modest per diem stipend. 



The Encyclopedia of Life

September 6, 2007 – The New York Times published an interesting editorial today about an ambitious new project announced earlier this year, in which the Smithsonian is taking a leading role.  The goal of the Encyclopedia of Life is nothing short of organizing all basic information on the 1.8 million known species on the planet within 10 years, and making all of this information accessible to everyone on the web.  Scientists predict this project should deliver immediately practical benefits for agriculture, medicine and other uses, “while disease-causing bacteria and viruses may be discovered and controlled before they can cause widespread harm.”

Bravo to our colleagues who are making this important initiative happen!!

Office of exhibits central old logo


Check out one of the Smithsonian’s newest blogs, from the Office of Exhibits Central (OEC).  OEC is a dynamic unit that produces exhibits and exhibition services for Smithsonian museums, SITES, and others, like the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, our affiliate in Arizona.
rotunda_elephant_sm_feather.jpg (a well-known example of OEC’s work on the Mall)

The blog is a fun glimpse into the workings of OEC.  You’ll see examples of their cool technology (like a skull being made on their CNC machine), projects they’re working on (like SITES’ Jim Henson’s Fantastic World) and exhibitions in development (such as Natural History’s Going to Sea, which will coincide with the opening of their new Ocean Hall.)

The best part is experiencing the process from their perspective – all the behind-the-scenes challenges and creative solutions that our colleagues confront on a daily basis (which no doubt are the same issues that Affiliate staffs deal with as well.)  It’s a good reminder to consider all that goes into the wonderful exhibits we enjoy in our museums every day… imagine if the public knew!?!

student activity at S.E.R.C.


 SERC home  This week, several Affiliations staff treated ourselves to a field trip, and visited our colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Environmental Research Center.  Located on 3,000 acres on the Chesapeake Bay (SERC map), SERC is a leading research unit with 16 laboratories devoted to studying things like marine biology & ecology, among other topics.  SERC is the national center for research on biological invasions in marine ecosystems;  hosts the world’s largest research team analyzing mangrove forests; and is a national leader in the analysis of wetlands.  Very impressive.

We met with SERC’s Director of Education, Mark Haddon.   Mark’s team reaches millions of kids a year through their extensive videoconferencing program, electronic field trips and mobile ecology lab.  They also teach  through guided hikes and canoe trips, lectures and “study stations” on their dock and shoreline, for interactive workshops on habitat, water quality and more.  Mark has very cool educational tools at his disposal too, from big rubber wading suits and nets to troll for crabs to aquariums and microscopes to a large-capacity boat on which he can take students into the bay for samples.  He’s even working on getting hand-held data-collecting probes. 

If any kind of marine biology or ecology is part of your mission, check out SERC.  They are ripe and eager to collaborate on everything from electronic lessons for students to teacher training to advice on best practices.    

Mark suggested we continue our discussion next time during a canoe trip around the property.  Any affiliates want to join us?!

seiningfig3.jpg SERCDockArial.jpg edu_programs_we_muddy.jpg  

Science education & the NSRC

I find this to be an amazing statistic:  45% of all science learning takes place in informal environments.  (no wonder NSF gives so much money to informal science education.)  Yet in a recent seminar on the topic, entitled “Changing the Course of K-16 Science Education,” a DC teacher asked in a roundabout way about the other 55%.  With No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on math and reading scores, very little formal classroom time can be devoted to science.  What then?

nsrc.gif  That’s where the National Science Resources Center comes in.  Do you know this organization?  They are a partnership between the Smithsonian and The National Academies, to provide leadership, services and products for improving the teaching of science.  In other practical words, they guide school districts in how to train teachers, implement, and evaluate the curriculum that NSRC itself has developed. 

NSRC has some incredible statistics of their own – they work with approximately 700 school districts nationwide, affecting 20% of all American school kids.  And they are realizing results, although it does take time.  Unfortunately, the United States is 29th in worldwide standing on science proficiency… in fact, only about 1 in 4 American students are deemed scientifically literate.  The implications of this are sobering of course;  but NSRC is one organization making a difference.  You can check out their impacts on their website.

But what about museums?!  If almost half of the science learning takes place at sites like museums, what is our impact?  How is it consistently measured, and by whom?  How can we do it better given shrinking school budgets and time for field trips?

Perhaps these questions will be addressed at NSRC’s upcoming event, “Changing the Course of Science Education: 2007 National Leadership Development Symposium,” October 31 – November 2 at the National Academies in Washington, D.C.  

And feel free to send your ideas too…  🙂