The Smithsonian Institution symbolizes America’s ernest desire for education and knowledge. Historically museums had a tradition of exclusiveness, and it was not until figures like Charles Wilson Peale began opening museums up to the working class that that they became places for everyone. Today so many people were darting around the Mall discovering pieces from one of the greatest collections in thew world. With all of these Smithsonian resources, I found myself wishing museums could fit more seamlessly into our public education system and moreover hoping for these museums to realize their potential as beacons of truth, or at least true debate in the world of increasing distrust and false news.
I was thrilled to learn about the accessibility initiatives throughout the Smithsonian Institution, and was struck at how this is definitely an uphill battle. There are essentially two people (with less sway than they need) ensuring the space and content is accessible to as many people as possible. Spark! Labs at the Museum of American History was a great example of what can be done when departments team together to create an accessible interactive space. As our public education classrooms are largely inclusive spaces, I hope that the Smithsonian can continue to work and learn to make the museum a place where all classrooms feel comfortable.
We had the absolute pleasure of touring the new galleries in the National Gallery of Art’s west building with Curator and Head of Modern Art, Harry Cooper. His skill in curating in such a way as to pose questions, infer meaning and offer comparison was wonderful. Especially naming the gallery “Looking forward, Looking backwards” with the accompanying photos (below) provided context and a beginning for a narrative with precious little words, but a lot of thoughtful design. My hope is that the National Gallery creates opportunities for all people to find this art a welcoming experience. The building itself, which boasts more marble than I can fathom and beautiful but unfamiliar geometric designs, will need to make sure that it is giving people an invitation to come and discover. The fourth and final part of its mission, is to “foster understanding” and I hope it continues to do this, because art is becoming increasingly less valued in public education and it is important for this museum say, why these works of art are important, and why the works of art in the future will be important too. The narrative needs to extend beyond the gallery to inspire their visitors.
Lastly, I just want to say this has been an absolutely incredible week!