butterfly  Smithsonian staff are all aflutter (pun intended) about the new Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History.  We’re really excited about sharing this amazing new space with Affiliates this summer at the conference.  

Officially titled “Butterflies and Plants: Partners in Evolution,” the accompanying exhibition on co-evolution paves the way for the lush tropical experience that is the pavilion itself.  Museum staff provide a handy pictorial guide to the butterflies inside, and it’s very easy for visitors to get up close and personal… often, a butterfly will land on a shoulder or hand!  More importantly, visitors can see the interrelationship between the insects and plants, observing butterflies’ & their long tongues (proboscis) sucking out nectar or juice from the pieces of fruit available, before going on to pollinate other plants.     

The butterflies arrive in Washington in their cocoons (sorry, chrysalides) from farms around the world, and are displayed in a case inside the pavilion.  Watching them emerge is another cool part of the experience, as is the inspection all visitors go through upon leaving, to make sure no “hitchhikers” leave the space.  It’s sure to be a not-to-be-missed Washington experience, so sign up now!  or, click here for more pics.  Enjoy! 

Interior of pavilion    Closeup    Blue butterfly       



Here’s a cool new announcement –

Click  The Smithsonian Photography Initiative is launching CLICK! PHOTOGRAPHY CHANGES EVERYTHING, an interdisciplinary, Web-based forum at https://www.click.si.edu/.

Using images drawn from the extraordinary collections of Smithsonian photography, CLICK! reminds us about the power of photography to change all aspects of our world. This new site will be publicly announced on March 14, 2008 – be one of the first to view it now!

Even better, during the first phase of CLICK! the Smithsonian Photography Initiative and guest curator Marvin Heiferman will invite as many as 100 contributors from both in and outside the Smithsonian to muse on the ways in which photography has changed the history, progress and practice of our experience. Their early contributions will serve as a springboard for the second phase, which launches in fall 2008 and will include interactive options for public participation. 

How is this useful to Affiliates? 

Like the library system at the Smithsonian, photographic collections are sprinkled throughout various units.  The Photography Initiative’s sites help to consolidate the images themselves for easier searching, and then point you to exactly the right person to ask about borrowing the image, or obtaining a reproduction.  The sites may also inspire you to think about the ways you share your photography collections and encourage visitor participation.

btw – that’s a Kodak Snapshot of Woman In Blue Dress By Car, 1959, in the American History’s collection.  Click on it to see a bigger version – I promise it’s worth it.

Smithsonian on iTunes

A nugget to add to the “who knew?!” category…

We recently got an announcement that Smithsonian’s Global Sound, a program of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, had launched a new section on the iTunes store in the iTunes U section called ‘Beyond Campus.’ One of only 6 organizations featured in this new project (with MoMA, American Public Media and others), this site gives free access to lesson plans, education kits, and videos that utilize and relate to Global Sound recordings for sale on SI websites and in the iTunes store.

alhaj.jpg  It’s fabulous. For example, I watched a three-minute video of the 2007 Teacher of the Year talk about how she used Global Sound to introduce her students to the music of Zimbabwe, and to explain the different classifications of instruments. I watched a short video of Iraqi virtuoso Rahim Alhaj record a song on the oud. (I didn’t know what an oud was either! the ” (ōōd) ” is a pear-shaped, stringed instrument similar to a lute used in traditional Middle Eastern music.  See picture above.) I downloaded the Center’s fantastic Oral History Interviewing Guide. You can search the site by instrument, culture, country, genre.. you name it.

How can Affiliates use this? Why not consider SI Global Sound next time you’d like to add a soundtrack to your African art exhibit? Do you have musical instruments in your collection, and need ideas for fresh ways to interpret them to your audiences? Chances are, Global Sound has a lesson plan or a video of someone playing the instrument, that you can share with your visitors.

So for fun while surfing around iTunes, I searched for ‘Smithsonian’ to see what else they might have. Need a new podcast to listen to on your way to work by chance?!
si podcast.jpg  The Institution’s podcasts are collected here. Some are familiar – the Hirshhorn and the Freer/Sackler presented theirs at an Affiliations Conference a few years ago. But have you heard Cheetah Chat from the National Zoo? Interested in hearing about what Smithsonian scientists are researching these days? The Undersecretary of Science has a podcast to share our findings. NMAI is producing fabulous podcasts that are audio or video recordings of their concerts, public art projects, or particular objects in their exhibitions (like a Tlingit elder describing the craftsmanship and story behind a Brown Bear Clan Hat from Alaska).

The depths of content and possible applications to plumb here are very deep… have fun! 

Web 2.0

Do you currently use these sites? 

 You Tube   flickr   MySpace  

Are you blogging or podcasting from your site?  If so, you’re navigating Web 2.0. 

An array of Smithsonian webmasters led a fascinating discussion today on the challenges and implications of Web 2.0, which, according to wikipedia (appropriately enough) refers to the newest generation of the web that faciliates greater user interaction in the creation and sharing of content.  Here’s some highlights from the discussion:

Who’s the authority?
  The great fear of many museums – if users are commenting and manipulating our content (collections, images, etc.), how will the public know what’s true?  SI webmasters seemed to be unified in their response to this topic – essentially, who cares?  Michael Edson of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum pointed to the New York Times, in that their site posts letters to the editor right next to articles and editorials.  The American History Museum’s Matt MacArthur highlighted their collection pages, which invite visitors to comment on featured artifacts.  It becomes fairly obvious which voice you’re reading – the Museum’s or its visitors.  Plus, let’s give our visitors the benefit of the doubt in terms of critical thinking!

How will what we do on the web affect our brand?  What’s the differences between our virtual presence, and our bricks & mortar experience?  Guess what?  For younger consumers (say, roughly under 50), there is no difference.  Brand perception is exactly the same whether they are in your building or on your website – they expect both experiences to be great, and identical. 

Super serve your niche.  When asked how to reach people who aren’t accessing your site, the answer was to focus on your core community first.  If your visitors aren’t finding high res images, or lesson plans, or your hours, easily, fix it.  A point that was made consistently was the viral nature of Web 2.0 – the better you are, the more your core, devoted visitors will “tag” you, will blog about you on their own sites, will add you to del.icio.us (look it up!).  Your popularity will grow organically.

Look for yourself!  This is a fun exercise – see (and make sure you know) what people are already saying about you.  You’d be surprised.  Tim Grove, an educator at NASM, shared his experience in finding a video on YouTube about a teen’s boring visit to the Museum!  (there are much better videos about them there too, don’t worry.)  Wonderful pictures from the 2007 Folklife Festival were posted on flickr, some with the guidance of the Smithsonian’s Photography Initiative.  Try looking up “smithsonian affiliate” on any of these sites and you’ll find some great stuff we didn’t even know existed!   

Want to know more?  AAM is all over this, and so are lots of museums.  Check out AAM’s blog, Museum 2.0.  The current issue of Museum News has an article on museums in Second Life, and plenty of articles on the topic.  The Brooklyn Museum gives a good glimpse into some cutting-edge applications (i.e., their visitor video competition on YouTube).  I would also highly recommend Stephen Johnson’s Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software which, among other things, conceptually links the characteristics of Web 2.0 with those of slime molds!

And speaking of user-generated content, what do you think?! 

Update from the Smithsonian’s newest museum

NMAAHC  Kudos to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the launch of their new website, reviewed today in the Washington Post.  You’ll find details on their collaborations, curricula for teachers, their ambitious Folkways Recordings project, and exhibition and collections planning. 

NMAAHC has several exciting initatives too, including Save Our African American Treasures: A National Collections Initiative which encourages community participants to look in their attics, closets, and basements and consider the American stories their personal treasures tell.  Read one of Lonnie Bunch’s (the founding director) memories in the Museum’s Virtual Memory Book, a place where web visitors may link their histories, stories, thoughts and ideas to museum offerings as well to memories contributed by other visitors.

Be sure to sign up for electronic updates to keep abreast of the Museum’s exhibitions and programs, and of course, the realization of their physical site on the Mall.

Smithsonian Focus newsletter

Smithsonian Focus

Have you seen this?  the Smithsonian’s monthly ‘Focus’ newsletter collects interesting goings-on from around the Institution about collections, events, research, online features and fun factoids.

si focus.jpg  Smithsonian Focus September 2007.htm

This month, I discovered that the Smithsonian owns the collection of (often) specially-commissioned Time magazine covers, now numbering over 2,000 works of art.  Did you also know that the Portrait Gallery has a collection of ‘hedcuts’ – those iconic portraits from the front page of the Wall Street Journal?  Both collections have awesome websites – Cover Art, The Time Collection and Picturing Business in America

Regardless of their scale, the portraits here are poignant, inspirational, sometimes humorous -basically, the essence of great portraiture. (and of the Portrait Gallery itself!)

To sign up for Smithsonian Focus, click here.  and enjoy!