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Innovation and Resilience

How do we develop and foster an innovation mindset and innovative programming now and into the future?

Innovation and Resilience

How do we develop and foster an innovation mindset and innovative programming now and into the future?

A crumpled up piece of paper and a paper airplane on a blue background

At Smithsonian Affiliations, we support innovation in interpretation, development processes, delivery mechanisms, and professional and operational practices. In collaboration with our Affiliates, we explore what it means to have an innovation mindset and what innovative programming looks like. We often work with Affiliates to engage their communities as innovation partners.

Innovation Mindset and Resilient Responses

We think of an “innovation mindset” as the ability to come up with new ideas and fresh approaches to problems. It is about being creative, nimble, and forward-thinking. Above all, it is about being collaborative and open to trying new things and even making mistakes.

An organization that demonstrates resilience is able to navigate challenges, such as Covid-19 pandemic and social unrest, and respond to changing circumstances with intention. Resilient organizations leverage the expertise of staff, listen to their community, reflect on systems and processes, and learn from mistakes in order to pivot, adjust and move forward with intention.

How might your relationship with the Smithsonian help your organization to develop and apply an innovation mindset and demonstrate resilience in your work?

Innovative Programming

Like all organizations, museums and educational and cultural institutions must innovate to successfully navigate the rapidly changing landscape of today’s world and to continue to serve the needs and interests of their communities. Here are a few areas we think about and work with our Affiliates to explore:

Communication Systems: How can we use online tools like electronic newsletters, video, and social media to communicate and engage with our communities? Audiences get information in many different ways today. Where is your audience and how can you meet them there?

Digital Programming: How are we currently using digital technologies to expand the reach and deepen the impact of our work? How are we—or might we—use online exhibitions, virtual programs, video, and other channels to share content with those who may not be able to visit or may want to start or continue their learning at home?

Innovative Processes and Practices: Whether it is through open access content, 3D printing or new Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) technology, the Smithsonian looks to new practices to bring life to scientific specimens, historic artifacts, and artwork in new creative ways. These approaches allow us to leverage technologies while broadening access to our research, collections, and expertise. How might your organization use these or other innovative strategies in its work?


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 cartoon rendering of the Spark!Lab space with people sitting at tables engaging in different activities.

The Draper Spark!Lab

The flagship educational initiative of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History, Spark!Lab is a place where everyone is inventive. Every day Spark!Lab provides opportunities for children and families to explore their inventive creativity—to create, innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve—because these experiences empower kids to develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed today and in the future.
The Spark!Lab Network takes the Draper Spark!Lab’s unique approach to hands-on learning beyond the Smithsonian and into museums and educational and cultural organizations across the United States and beyond. In Spark!Lab at the Michigan Science Center, visitors engage in hands-on activities that connect to their community’s history and their local inventors and inventions.

“As an Affiliate, our Spark!Lab is the most visible expression of our partnership with Smithsonian. Guests to the Science Center ask for it by name and members return often with their kids to see what’s happening next in the space. Through the amazing interaction our Spark!Lab provides, young learners can tap into their inner creativity and dream up new solutions to age-old problems.“

Christian Greer thumbnail size portrait Christian Greer
President & CEO, Michigan Science Center
(Detroit, MI)
Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
A person points to a monitor wall display showing a close up image of a burning hot sun

Smithsonian Learning Lab

The Smithsonian Learning Lab is a major rethinking of how the digital resources from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 9 major research centers, Smithsonian’s National Zoo, and more, can be used together for learning. The Learning Lab inspires the discovery and creative use of the Smithsonian’s digital materials, which includes more than a million images, recordings, and texts.

In summer 2021, Smithsonian Affiliations partnered with 25 Affiliates—including the Arizona State Museum (ASM)—to host 75 virtual interns. The interns created collections on the Smithsonian Learning Lab using Affiliate and Smithsonian content to explore some of today’s most challenging issues. The interns’ work makes Affiliate resources available to the 75,000 users who visit Learning Lab each month.
“The internship’s products—three Learning Lab collections—made accessible more of ASM’s photographic and basketry collections….It also helped to link various resources with our photos to show teachers ways the collections can be used in conjunction with other resources such as program videos and educational activity materials.”
Lisa Falk thumbnail size portrait
Lisa Falk

Head of Community, Arizona State Museum (Tucson, AZ)
Smithsonian Initiative
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AFFILIATE Initiative
A hand holds a mobile phone depicting a sculpture in augmented reality superimposed on a grass filled backyard.

Augmented History

The Smithsonian is exploring how to leverage AR technology to further its educational mission and connect with new audiences. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithsonian museums were closed but AR effects allowed people around the globe to interact with select collection items through Instagram effects. There is also a selection of Smithsonian objects that can be brought to life through AR technology.
A person leans over a 3D printer
Hermitage museum & gardens (Norfolk, VA)

Ancient Art Meets the Future

Through the innovative processes of 3D scanning and printing, treasured objects from many Smithsonian museums can be experienced and appreciated around the world. The Hermitage Museum & Gardens teamed up with the National Museum of Asian Art to 3D scan and print 10 objects from the national collection that relate to the Hermitage’s collection of Asian art. The Hermitage created an exhibition with the 3D prints and developed companion programming to allow its visitors to explore the art, process, and innovative uses of 3D printing.

Innovation and Resilience


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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