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Collaboration and Relationship Building

How do we build and foster reciprocal relationships and collaboration with like-minded organizations through and with Affiliations?

Collaboration and Relationship Building

How do we build and foster reciprocal relationships and collaboration with like-minded organizations through and with Affiliations?

Two people pose in front of a framed collage.

At Smithsonian Affiliations, we encourage Affiliates to engage intentionally and proactively with other Affiliates, the Affiliations staff, and other Smithsonian colleagues around common areas of interest, collective expertise, community connections, collections, and other resources. This engagement helps us all to build a trusted and growing Community of Practice.

Shared Discourse

We seek engaged collaborators who make an intentional effort to build relationships with the Smithsonian and other Affiliates to foster mutual learning and collaboration. Through shared discourse, Affiliates have the opportunity to explore best practices, share ideas, and problem solve with others in the Affiliate network.

Recent examples include:

Affiliate Collaboration

We facilitate and support opportunities for Affiliates to work collaboratively with one another.

This may include: 

  • Highlighting innovative ways to fund projects by encouraging collaboration between Affiliate organizations
  • Offering shared benefits among participating Affiliate members through the Smithsonian Affiliate Reciprocal Membership Program
  • Connecting Affiliates to facilitate the sharing of Affiliate objects or exhibitions with one another

Affiliations Resources

We support Affiliates with capacity-building and professional development resources as part of the Affiliations’ dedication to supporting collaborating museums and educational and cultural organizations in their ongoing growth.

Working directly with Affiliates, our National Outreach Managers identify unique and relevant opportunities in addition to exploring and supporting new opportunities to enable growth, including:

  • Periodic funding opportunities to work with the Smithsonian on specific education programs, typically connected to pan-Institutional priorities.
  • Professional development opportunities, such as the immersive, cohort-based Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program.
  • Co-creating new events, programming, or resources with Affiliates. 

National to Local Stories

Smithsonian Affiliations collaborates with museums and educational and cultural organizations to bring the Smithsonian to your neighborhood. We support you in articulating your story within and alongside the larger narratives told by the Smithsonian.

Here are some examples of how we have worked with Affiliates to support their work. How does this inspire you? We encourage you to include your ideas in the Statement of Purpose included in your Affiliate application.

Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
A seated audience in a ballroom with hands raised asking questions.

Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference

The annual Smithsonian Affiliations National Conference is tailored exclusively for current Smithsonian Affiliates and Smithsonian staff. Each year, the National Conference provides professional development and networking opportunities and a platform to discuss and examine a series of timely and important questions. The conference provides unique access to Smithsonian and Affiliate experts and thought leaders, program and exhibition opportunities, and collaborative brainstorming with fellow colleagues in the Smithsonian Affiliate network.
At the closing session of the 2021 Smithsonian Affiliations Virtual Conference, three Affiliate Directors, along with Affiliations Director Emeritus, Harold Closter, came together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Smithsonian Affiliations and have a conversation about what the future holds. They shared their experiences being part of the Affiliations program and how they leverage the Smithsonian to enrich and enliven their communities.

“When we first explored becoming an Affiliate, people asked, ‘what are we going to get out of [being an Affiliate]?’ Well, I don’t know…but there’s all these cool people! It’s like, what am I going to get out of a party? I’m still going to go to the party and see who we meet….Sometimes you really don’t know what the possibilities are until you get into the mix.”

Christian Greer thumbnail size portrait Christian Greer
President & CEO, Michigan Science Center
(Detroit, MI)
Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
A group of people sit on chairs in a circle facing each other

Affiliate Office Hours

Born out of the early days of the pandemic, Office Hours provides a forum for Affiliates to connect with one another in an informal, online environment. Each Office Hours session focuses on a specific topic, from engaging Affiliate members in innovative ways to collecting in a time of crisis to balancing digital and onsite programs. Office Hours supports Affiliates to brainstorm, share, and problem-solve with others in the Affiliate network.
In May 2020, Affiliates came together to talk about strategies for safely reopening their facilities. Affiliates shared their reopening plans and discussed how they planned to welcome visitors while maintaining appropriate COVID-19 protocols.
“Connecting and sharing with colleagues in real-time seems more relevant now than before. The Office Hours are a great forum to do so.”
Ann Fortescue thumbnail size portrait Ann Fortescue
Director, International Museum of Art & Science (McAllen, TX)
Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
Four people sit at a conference table working on a project

Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program

Affiliates enjoy robust professional development opportunities, including the Visiting Professionals Program. The program is offered periodically and offers selected candidates a stipend to develop their professional skills during an immersive, cohort-based experience that helps participants develop leadership and technical skills to support their work at their Affiliate, as well as their career growth.

In 2018 and 2019, Affiliations brought together a group of mid-career Affiliate staff to focus on how they could use digital tools and technologies to broaden access to their art collections. Participants each brought a challenge or project to the two-week Visiting Professionals Program and—with support, insight, and guidance from Smithsonian leadership and other staff—refined the project and developed a strategy to implement a solution. 

“I am full of gratitude for the opportunity to participate in VPP [Visiting Professionals Program]. I continue to lean on what I experienced through the program. It has been so helpful as we work to navigate connecting with our community.” 

Katie Staib thumbnail size portrait Katie Staib
Director of Education, Northwest Museum of Art & Culture (Spokane, WA)
Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
A group of people pose at a step-and-repeat for a film festival.

Collaborative Funding via Smithsonian

Affiliates have periodic opportunities to participate in grant-funded projects that center on research and education. Affiliations actively seeks out grants for Affiliates to work with the Smithsonian on specific projects. Note that funding is available only for select projects, often through a competitive process and sometimes by invitation. Not all Affiliates that express interest in an opportunity receive funding. In 2020, the Mid-America Science Museum received a small award from the Smithsonian to support the museum’s work with a group of students from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts to design and install a native pollinator garden for the school’s campus.
In summer 2021, Affiliations collaborated with 25 Affiliates—including the Anchorage Museum—to host 75 virtual interns. Each Affiliate received a stipend for mentoring 3 interns. The interns’ work supported Affiliates’ strategic priorities and—in many instances—helped Affiliates share their collections, exhibitions, and resources in new ways and with new audiences.

“Part of [our] mission is to include and make accessible voices from historically marginalized people, including members of the immigrant and refugee communities….Through the work of the interns, we were able to add three oral histories from members of this community to our collection. The internship served as a springboard for the larger project; through it we were able to gauge community interest, establish timelines, more accurately project costs, etc.”

Janet Northey thumbnail size portrait Janet Northey
Senior Collections Manager, Anchorage Museum (Anchorage, AK)

Collaboration and Relationship Building


This is a tool to reflect on your own organization’s work as you consider whether affiliating with the Smithsonian is right for your organization.

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