What community means to the Smithsonian | At the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley envisioned the Anacostia Museum as an outreach effort to the local community.
Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum

In September 1965, the Smithsonian commemorated the 200th anniversary of founder James Smithson’s birth. President Lyndon Johnson delivered remarks on the occasion, noting that “our nation’s first great benefactor” bequeathed us three noble ideas: “learning respects no geographical boundaries”, “partnership between government and private enterprise can serve the greater good of both” and “the dissemination of knowledge must be the first work of a nation which wants to be free.

We appreciate milestones like these, not just to celebrate, but to connect with who we are and to see how far we’ve come. One such pivotal event for the Smithsonian took place in 1967, when the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum opened in a former theater in southeast Washington, DC. Despite its humble beginnings, its ambitions were grand, with innovative, interactive and intertwined exhibitions and educational programs. to the community.

Today the Anacostia Community Museum is a model museum serving the people of its community. When the coronavirus pandemic closed the museum, curators took their Exhibition “Food for the people” outside, exposing the persistent problems of food inequities in the Washington, D.C. area and highlighting potential solutions. When the museum reopened, an exhibit in the gallery expanded and enhanced the visitor experience.

We are preparing for another milestone next year: the centenary of the Freer Art Gallery, the Smithsonian’s first art museum. The inauguration took place in September 1916, but the First World War delayed construction. It opened to the public in 1923, displaying Asian artwork, 19th-century American paintings, and James Whistler’s famous Peacock Room, complete with live peacocks roaming the courtyard.

The Freer Gallery’s curatorial department, now part of the National Museum of Asian Art, performs cutting-edge work. His East Asian Paintings Conservation Workshop, for example, combines modern and traditional techniques to preserve Japanese and Chinese works of art and transcends geographical boundaries by training international conservation professionals. The famous Peacock Room is being restored for the first time in 30 years and will reopen in September with a new installation of ceramics from Syria, Egypt, Korea, China and Japan.

As we eagerly await the development of our the newest Smithsonian museums, these pillars are a reminder that cultural institutions can and must be places that respect history without being captives of the past. I think James Smithson and LBJ would be amazed at the impact of these museums today and the innovative ways the Smithsonian serves people around the world.

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