Beginning as the brainchild of a British scientist inspired by the ideals of the American Revolution, the Smithsonian today is a uniquely American Institution with a global perspective. This perspective is also a focus of the U.S Department of State, which aims to share American cultural values internationally. With the establishment of a State Department detail position at the Smithsonian in 2009, the Smithsonian and the State Department began working together on a number of projects born from a deeper relationship and enhanced collaboration.
The first detailee, Larry Wohlers, now ambassador to the Central African Republic, explains, “The idea for the detail emerged from a conversation with Smithsonian Under Secretary Richard Kurin when we realized that the two institutions had complementary goals abroad: State needed more cultural content for its posts, and the Smithsonian needed help expanding its footprint internationally.”
Every week brings new possibilities for greater interaction. Whether advising museums in
Oman or promoting interest in tree banding by students around the world, the Smithsonian’s international work helps put a face on the State Department’s commitment to education, culture, the environment and scientific cooperation.
Model American Spaces
Elizabeth Duggal (Associate Director for External Affairs at the National Museum of Natural History); Contractor Myles Gordon; Molly Fannon (Director, Office of International Relations); Mike Lawrence (Chief of Design, Office of Exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History); and Liz Tunick (Program Coordinator, International Programs) have been leading the Smithsonian’s work to reimagine the Bureau of International Information Program’s American Spaces, which provide welcoming environments where foreign visitors can connect and learn about the United States. These model Spaces will demonstrate the shared relationships and commitments between the U.S. and host communities while also allowing visitors to explore the diversity of American language, culture, and education and career opportunities in an innovative and dynamic atmosphere.
Tricia Edwards and Jeff Brodie from the National Museum of American History’s Lemelson Center for Invention and Innovation worked with the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine and Kyiv’s Art Arsenal Gallery to install a temporary Spark!Lab at the Gallery. This Spark!Lab, the first one overseas, engaged children while teaching them basic entrepreneurship and creative problem solving skills as they invented simple contraptions such as gliders, gyroscopes, and hydroponic gardens.
International Jazz Day
In April 2012 and 2013, Jazz Appreciation Month Program Director Joann Stevens of the National Museum of American History helped the State Department identify resources to celebrate United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Jazz Day. As a result of this collaboration, U.S. diplomatic missions around the world had access to Smithsonian’s extensive jazz collection, recordings, websites and activities, including the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra webcast honoring National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master John Levy. JAM also sent the 2013 poster featuring Lionel Hampton to all overseas diplomatic posts.
The Scurlock Studio
In 2011-2012, the State Department and the National Museum of African American History and Culture collaborated to produce a 20-panel poster show based on the museum’s 2009 exhibition “Picturing the Promise: The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington”. The result was a museum-quality exhibit available easily and at low cost to overseas U.S. embassies and consulates.
Following a State Department-organized speaking program in the West Bank in January 2012, National Air and Space Museum Curator Martin Collins and the Al Nayzak science center in Ramallah are collaborating to bring five to ten Palestinian students (ages-14 to 16) to Washington using public diplomacy funding. This program will provide students with training in museum approaches to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as well as provide background on career paths in science and technology.
For the past two years, the Natural History Museum and the State Dept.’s Bureau of International Information Programs have worked together to leverage and amplify the Smithsonian’s myriad oceans resources and expertise, including building a mobile app and collaborating on a series of blogs. More recently, IIP relied heavily on the Ocean Portal in its June 10-14 World Ocean Day information campaign, which targeted youth worldwide via articles, photographs, and social media.
This post was contributed by Beatrice Camp, Senior Advisor for International Affairs.
Posted: 24 June 2013