September 25, 2013
Nothing like a free show and this Saturday, September 28, all the fun is on us. The ninth annual Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live invites readers to download a free ticket for two and explore the collections of 1,500 participating museums from all 50 states, including dozens of Smithsonian Affiliate museums, a vast network of partners in communities around the nation.
Be sure to let us know in the comments about where you’ll be using those free tickets: but if you’re in one of these neighborhoods, may we suggest:
Be a Child Again in Philadelphia The exhibitions and programs at the National Museum of American Jewish History are sure to spark enthusiasm from all members of the family, young and old, especially the new exhibit “The Snowy Day and Art of Ezra Jack Keats,” which the New York Times has called “an exploration of universal childhood dreams.” This is the first major exhibition to pay tribute to the award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983), whose books include Whistle for Willie, Peter’s Chair and The Snowy Day.
Swing Time in Kansas City Located at the crossroads of 18th & Vine, the Jazz District of Kansas City, Missouri, the American Jazz Museum showcases the preservation, exhibition and advancement of the story and spirit of jazz. On view is the Smithsonian traveling exhibition “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music,” (Aug. 1- Oct. 27) a look at the social history and individual creativity that produced stars like Tito Puente, Ritchie Valens, Celia Cruz, Carlos Santana and Selena with conversations, performances and workshops.
Cowboys in Cody The award-winning Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, says it has a “uniquely American story” to tell about American west, beginning with “the land and its first peoples, and extends through the centuries to the present day—western experiences that refine the spirit of our nation.” So grab your cowboy hat and learn about the life and times of Buffalo Bill Cody, as well as the Plains Indians and the natural history of the greater Yellowstone area.
Pilots in Dallas More than 30 aircraft and display galleries rock the world for aviation buffs at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. The museum boasts of some stellar collections that include early biplanes, the Apollo 7 command module, historically significant military and general aviation aircraft, numerous commercial airline artifacts, as well as a World War II exhibit, and an extensive history of Southwest Airlines. But the must-see artifact here is the iconic flying disk, the Chance Vought V-173. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a flying pancake!
Silver and Gold on Wall Street For all your future little financiers, there’s nothing like the Museum of American Finance in New York City. Here you can pay homage to the almighty dollar and check out the museum’s new exhibition “The Fed at 100,” which opens on Museum Day. The place is chock full of exhibits on financial markets, money and banking and entrepreneurship, not to mention a section on America’s financial pioneer Alexander Hamilton. But perhaps, the costliest artifact of all is the 18 karat gold Monopoly set on loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. A real gem!
Stay All Day, and Then Some, in Daytona Located in the lush 90-acre Tuscawilla preserve in Central Florida, the Museum of Arts and Sciences is the kind of place where you might need to go back, and then back again. There’s popular Americana including vintage automobiles, railway cars and the museum boasts of its world class collection of Coca-Cola advertising memorabilia. Also on location to be explored is the Cuban Foundation Museum, a children’s museum, a “visible storage” building, a giant ground sloth skeleton as well as African artifacts, a Chinese art collection and a planetarium. Write home if you get lost!
Choo-Choos in Baltimore The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum is the repository of one of the most comprehensive collections of railway artifacts in the world, and is home to one of the Smithsonian’s most treasured artifacts, the 12-and-a-half ton, 1851 locomotive, the Pioneer. Restored to its 1901 splendor, and constructed of wrought and cast iron with copper boiler tubes and a wooden cab, the passenger locomotive carried Union troops and supplies into Western Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania. See other facets of railroading including everything from dining car china to the clocks and pocket watches that kept the trains run on time. UPDATE 9/25/2013: The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum will not be open to the public on Museum Day. The satellite locations—B&O Ellicott City Station and Mount Clare Museum House—will accept Museum Day Live! tickets for September 28th and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum will accept tickets that were already downloaded on the 29th. Questions can be addressed to MuseumDay@si.edu
June 19, 2013
One of the great joys of curating a traveling exhibition is the travel, of course. Recently, I was asked to give the introductory lecture at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History for “Elvis at 21,” an exhibition I co-curated for the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in 2010.
“Elvis” has been on road for more than three years. It opened at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, and has traveled to 12 museums, including the Smtihsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Fort Worth is its final continental U.S. stop before it travels to the Australia’s National Portrait Gallery in Canberra for its international debut, December 6, 2013 through March 10, 2014.
Featuring a cache of photographs taken in 1956 by freelancer Alfred Wertheimer, the exhibit documents the meteoric rise of young Elvis in the year he swiveled from virtual unknown to media megastar. Television was the new celebrity-generating medium in mid-fifties America, and a series of electrifying TV performances between January 1956 and January 1957 accelerated the young performer’s launch to fame. The exhibition’s large format photographs reveal the excitement Elvis conveyed onstage and off: Wertheimer’s unlimited access chronicled a remarkably intimate record of a superstar “just before,” and Elvis’s innocence is entrancing—especially because viewers know the rest of the story.
Colleen Blair, senior vice president at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, was the key player in both securing the Elvis show and enticing me to speak. She persuasively argued that this exhibition would contribute to the museum’s transformation from an earlier identity as a children’s museum, to a broader-based, dynamic 21st century museum of history and culture. My talk about Elvis was geared to a Big Picture cultural approach, framing him as a messenger of enormous change in the years that ignited both the modern civil rights and feminist movements. By energizing the emerging youth culture and helping create a new consumer market fueled by radio, recordings and movies, Elvis represented an intrusion as shocking as Sputnik would be a year later. It was his popularity that helped catalyze a revolution in the entertainment industry, paving the way for rhythm and blues, gospel and rock into mainstream culture.
The museum itself is a knock-out. Designed by the acclaimed architectural firm Legorretta + Legorretta, it nurtures a “playful” spirit of discover and inspiration by using rich, bright interior colors and light that dazzles. Walking through the museum, visitors find such engaging features as a video wall, a waterfall, a planetarium, an Energy Gallery, and an IMAX theater.
Van A. Romans became the museum’s president in 2004. Within five years, he raised $80 million and opened the doors on this stunning new museum facility. It is a spectacular building that sits comfortably in a neighborhood with the Philip Johnson-designed Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Louis Kahn-designed Kimbell Art Museum.
Romans was the perfect fit for this museum. For more than 25 years, he had worked for the Walt Disney Company, including Disney Imagineering and pioneered the integration of the entertainment industry with the museum world. His mission in Fort Worth has been to inject energy and vitality into the museum experience by enhancing the “historical aspect of the exhibitions we offer and the stories we tell.” He speaks with enthusiasm and grace about the role of the 21st century museum, and his vision radiates throughout the building. “Our goal,” he has said, “is to inspire every person” that visits the museum.
A Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum joined the 176 other Smithsonian-affiliated museums and cultural organizations in February 2012. At the time, Van Romans predicted that this collaboration would “enhance the Museum’s potential to inspire learning and serve our community” by bringing such Smithsonian resources as exhibitions, staff participation, and programming to Fort Worth. For me, the turn-around is equally important: what this museum reminded me was what can be accomplished for today’s audiences if priority is given to inspiration and creativity: if you imagine it, it can be done.