May 3, 2013
When Christopher Columbus set off across the Atlantic in search of a Western route to Asia, the continent became a footnote in the discovery of America. But before the country was even founded, Asians and Asian Americans have played integral roles in the American story. Some chapters of that history are well known: the impact of Chinese railroad workers or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But countless others have been overlooked.
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a new traveling show developed by by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center seeks to provide a more complete story of Asian American history. Now on view at the American History Museum, the exhibition “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” begins with the pre-Columbian years and spans the centuries, to tell of the Asian experience with a series of posters featuring archival images and beautiful illustrations that eventually will travel the country. A condensed set of exhibition materials will also be distributed to 10,000 schools nationwide as teaching tools.
Though often marginalized with legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Asian Americans were central to American history, “from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement,” explains Konrad Ng, director of the Asian Pacific American Center.
The densely packed exhibit resonates with many of today’s conversations around immigration, identity and representation. Beneath the broad banner of Asian American identity dwells a deeper, more diverse set of experiences. The Puna Singh family, for example, represents a unique blending of cultures that occurred when Punjabi men–unable to immigrate with Indian brides–became employed in agriculture in the West, and met and started families with female Mexican fieldworkers. “The story of Asian Americans,” says Lawrence Davis, who worked on the exhibition, “is very much one that’s not in isolation.”
The Asian experience is one that includes a diversity of cultures and countries. As early as 1635, Chinese merchants were trading in Mexico City. By the 1760s, Filipinos had set up fishing villages in the bayous of New Orleans, and Vietnamese shrimpers and fishermen are a large part of the Coast’s current economy. Asian Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, including two brothers, who were the sons of the famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng, brought to the U.S. by circus-owner P.T. Barnum. In 1898, Wong Kim Ark, a Chinese American, won a landmark Supreme Court case, which established the precedent of birthright citizenship. In the 1960s, Filipino workers marched alongside Cesar Chavez for farm workers’ rights.
The exhibit borrows its title from the 20th-century Filipino American poet, Carlos Bulosan who wrote:
Before the brave, before the proud builders and workers,
I say I want the wide American earth
For all the free.
I want the wide American earth for my people.
I want my beautiful land.
I want it with my rippling strength and tenderness
Of love and light and truth
For all the free.
“When he arrived in the U.S., like most immigrant stories, it wasn’t easy,” says Ng of the poet. “And yet he still came to love this country.” Despite the hardship, discrimination and even vilifying, many Asian Americans came to love this country as well, and from that love, they improved it and became an integral part of it.
Though Ng had a hard time singling out any favorite chapter from the show, he says many present “new ways to think about the community,” including the politics of international adoption, the spread of Asian food cultures and much more.
“I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” will be on display at the American History Museum through June 18, 2013 before traveling to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
January 30, 2013
“Green Revolution” is a traveling exhibit that practices what it preaches. Since April 2011, it has made its way around America educating visitors about eco-friendly ways of living, and it has done so without gas-guzzling trucks or plastic-filled crates.
Normally, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), the organization that designs and distributes the Institution’s on-the-go exhibits, ships full-scale exhibition packages to the exhibits’ host museums. These packages include objects, photographs, interpretive texts, displays and computer and audiovisual equipment. Since SITES launched in 1951, it has distributed more than 1,500 shows across the country and abroad.
With “Green Revolution,” however, SITES only provides the blueprints. “The host museums download files and then build it themselves, so we don’t ship anything to them,” explains Lindsey Koren, a SITES spokesperson. Because host museums must find their own materials, they are challenged to be environmentally creative with their designs, and to involve their local communities in the construction process.
At Planetario Alfa, an upcoming host museum in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, the staff recently held a bottle cap collection to build a mural for their version of the exhibit. Visitors brought in different colored caps—over 60,000—which school groups and other local volunteers then used to create a massive 8-by-79-foot mosaic (above). Its ocean theme celebrates 2013 as the United Nations-designated International Year of Water. According to a post about the mural on SITES’s blog, the project has inspired other Mexican institutions to build similar murals with their own designs.
Recycled materials make up the majority of items in “Green Revolution,” which vary from static displays to interactive stations. Divided into segments like “energy,” “recycling” and “composting,” the exhibit uses live worm compost bins, miniature wind turbines, bicycle-powered electronics and biography panels of local recycling heroes to demonstrate how small changes to our everyday lives can impact carbon footprints. Because of the exhibit’s high customizability, no version is the same. “It looks different everywhere it goes,” Koren says.
So far, the exhibit has been featured at museums in Florida, Kansas, Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, New Hampshire and, new this month, Arizona. The Mexican exhibit, which opens in March, was the first to translate all of SITES digital files into Spanish. The advantage of a digital “eco-zhibit,” Koren says, is that it can be open simultaneously at any museums that want it, with flexible opening and closing dates.
Is “Green Revolution” the future of traveling museum exhibits? “I think that it could be a model of future digital exhibits,” says Devra Wexler, SITES project director. “I would not say that it’s a model for [all] future travel exhibits, because when you have objects to send, you’re going to send objects. But If you’re doing an exhibition that doesn’t require objects, that can be tailored and customized for a local audience, then using something digital to get everything there is a good way to go, especially if you’re trying to teach environmental responsibility.
“It’s a great way to get information to museums if they’re willing to put in a lot of effort,” she adds.
July 20, 2011
When you think of Latin music, the sounds that have typically defined it—mambo, merengue, salsa, cha-cha-cha—naturally, come to mind. But what about music’s influence on more traditional U.S. genres like jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop?
A newly opened exhibit, “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music,” invites visitors to explore the depth and breadth of Latino music, which, historically, encompasses a sound that is at once distinctive, and all-American.
“In a huge way, what this [exhibition] is about is not just Latino music in a bubble, which, as we know, never exists in a bubble,” says Ranald Woodaman, of the Smithsonian Latino Center. ”It really is a huge story about Latin music, kind of at the heart of America.”
Divided regionally into the five cities best-known to American audiences in terms of Latino music production—New York, Miami, San Antonio, Los Angeles and San Francisco—this interactive exhibition focuses on post-World War II Latino music. While there are parts of the Latino music story that date back to the Great Depression, World War II was the era when many Latino musicians fighting in the war, like Tito Puente and Ray Barretto, were exposed to jazz, says Woodaman. From that exposure, the mambo sound was developed, “a fusion of more traditional Afro-Cuban, Afro-Caribbean rhythms with a U.S. jazz approach.”
Mambo would not be the only new sound created from melding cultures and influences, as the bilingual exhibit explains. From the rebellious Pachuco of the late 1930s, a counterculture created by Mexican-Americans who felt rejected by both societies, which would lay the foundation for Chicano music, to the intersections of Mexican music with that of German and Czech immigrants in Texas and the fusion of Caribbean cultures with urban cultures in Los Angeles and New York, Latino sound can be heard across genres.
With music playing in the background, maps, original records, fliers, promotional posters, videos, films and other ephemera from the era, including: Carlos Santana’s mariachi, Eva Ybarra’s accordion, a Celia Cruz outfit, original records from both independent and commercial music labels, as well as items from Héctor Lavoe, Ruben Bladés and Gloria Estefan, among others, tell the story. Listening booths, a mixing station and a dance floor encourage visitors to be a part of it.
“Learning is important,” says Woodaman, “but this exhibit offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in the music, in the rhythms, and use that as an entry point for learning.”
“I’d like people to come to this exhibit and basically get a sense of how varied, especially by region, Latino music traditions really are,” Woodaman says. “It’s really old, it’s been in the United States for a long time and … at the end of the day, what we call Latin music is part and parcel of the American experience.”
See “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” at the S. Dillon Ripley Center’s International Gallery until October 9. Learn more about Latino music and the exhibit at the American Sabor website. Created by the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington with curators from the University of Washington, the 5,000 square-foot exhibition was designed to be accessible to visitors of all ages. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) also designed a smaller version of the exhibit, intended for libraries and community centers, which is traveling the country simultaneously.
April 6, 2010
Jazz Appreciation Month is in full swing Around the Mall and Beyond! Check out a schedule of upcoming events below or download a PDF for additional information.
Tuesday, April 6
An Evening with Jon Hendricks. James Zimmerman, Emcee
7:30 pm, Howard University, Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel
Wednesday, April 7
Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense Screening, 6:30 pm
Discussion with director Lars Larson and producer John Comerford, 8:00 pm
Jam session with jazz stars/SJMO Musicians, 8:30 pm, Carmichael Auditorium, 1st Floor, National Museum of American History
Thursday, April 8
Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
12:45 – 1:45 PM, Howard University, Childers Auditorium
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench Screening
Discussion with director Damien Chazelle
NMAH, Carmichael Auditorium, 1st Floor, National Museum of American History
Friday, April 9
Guitar Workshop with Bucky Pizzarelli
12:00 – 2:00 pm, NMAH, Carmichael Auditorium, 1st Floor, National Museum of American History
Saturday, April 10
Delfeayo Marsalis Band and Curator Susan Ostroff hosted by the National Park Service at Fort Dupont Park, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Music/Jazz History with Delfeayo Marsalis, 1:00 pm
Jazz: music of the Civil War Era: Susan Ostroff, 2:00 pm
Performance, Delfeayo Marsalis Band, 2:30 pm
Fort Dupont Park Activity Center, Fort Dupont Drive, SE
Hub-tones, The Life of Freddie Hubbard
Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
7:30 pm, Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History
Sunday, April 11
Rhythm Café Basie with WPFW’s Jamal Muhammad
11:00 am, Anacostia Community Museum
More events beyond this weekend after the jump: (More…)
January 6, 2010
What comes to mind when you hear the name Elvis? Musician. Icon. Sex. Spandex. Kitsch. Costello (kidding!). You can play the word association game all day long and no matter what your opinion of the man is—good, bad or indifferent—even the most suspicious minds have to admit that he is one of the gods on American pop culture’s Mt. Olympus. This coming Friday, January 8, marks what would have been Presley’s 75th birthday and we here at Around the Mall harbor a hunk-a hunk-a burning love for the guy so, in memoriam, we offer a series of Elvis-themed blogs. In this first installment, we show you how you don’t have to hang around your local 7-11 to catch sight of the King of Rock and Roll. If you’re in the DC area, and if you’re an Elvis fan, you should most definitely check out the following:
National Portrait Gallery
On January 8, 2010 the National Portrait Gallery unveils its exhibit that commemorates the 75th anniversary of Presley’s birth. The show explores representations of Elvis in the visual arts and how those pieces contribute to his mythic status in American popular culture.
American Art Museum
The American Art Museum has a small cache of Elvis-related art worth checking out, notably an Elvis jug that is currently on display and a folk art depiction of Mr. Presley behind the wheel of a pink Cadillac which, unfortunately, is still in the vaults is currently on display in the Echoes of Elvis show.
The 1993 Elvis stamp stands as the most popular commemorative postage stamp ever issued. (Indeed, there was a bit of a fad where people would improperly address letters bearing the stamp—only to have them returned with “Return to Sender” marked thereon. Cute, yes?) Learn about this icon of mailable art at the Postal Museum’s website, see all the designs that didn’t make the grade and you can also see an enlargement of Mark Stutzman’s winning portrait.
For those of you who won’t be able to make it out to DC for any of the above shows, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) offers the traveling show Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer. This collection of large-format images presents Presley in his prime. Check the SITES site to see if the show will be coming to a city near you.
The National Archives is home to one of the most iconic Elvis images—that of him shaking hands with former president Richard M. Nixon. In an online exhibit, learn about what precipitated the famous 1970 meeting, view letters from Elvis as well as the host of snapshots that didn’t become famous but are still pretty cool just the same.
Check out the National Copyright Office’s website for all the information you need to copyright your latest, greatest Elvis sighting! Long story short: you can’t copyright the sighting itself, but any snapshots you take during your encounter are totally fair game. Happy hunting you savvy little paparazzo-in-training, you!