March 21, 2016

Get to know one of our Affiliate partners: the Conner House, the heart of Conner Prairie

Our diverse network of Smithsonian Affiliates helps connect local stories to our shared national history. With more than 200 Affiliates in 46 states, Puerto Rico and Panama, each has a special story to share about what makes them unique to our network. Here’s one of those stories. Special thanks to Duane Brodt, Director of Public Relations at Conner Prairie for this guest post.



Two hundred years ago, a fur trapper named William Conner made his living in the woods of Hamilton County. He lived among the Native Americans on the banks of the White River, fought in the War of 1812 and played an instrumental role in the transformation of Indiana from a territory to statehood.

He spent the next 15 years transforming himself from a trapper and trader to a gentleman and statesman who lived in a red brick home at the top of a hill – the Conner House, the heart of Conner Prairie.

Over the years, the house bustled with business and politics. It was the meeting place for county commissioners, home to the Circuit Court and served as the post office in the early days of the county. Visitors traveled from far away to discuss legislation around the dinner table and strike business deals in the best room. It was a cultural hub where big ideas were stretched and pulled as leaders wrestled with how to best guide our state though its infancy.

On Thursday, to celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial, a renovated and reimagined Conner Homestead will open and the story of William Conner will be transformed – from a domestic story to one that tells the larger tale of Indiana’s transformation from territory to statehood.

“The Bicentennial and all of the focus on early Indiana history got us thinking about the transformation of the Conner House experience to a story that looks at the Conner family and its transformation,” said Director of Exhibits Brian Mancuso. “We have designed interactive video and audio pieces to help people experience and explore in different ways.”

Rather than entering the home through the back of the house through the kitchen, visitors will now enter the home from the actual front of the home, as those traveling the White River and traversing the prairie would have entered Conner’s home in the 1800s.

Exploring the rooms of the Conner House will now allow visitors to immerse themselves in interactive, technological exhibits that explore the questions of the day and how the land was settled, surveyed and sold. Young visitors can contrast and compare their chores, meals and clothes with those of the Conner family and friends. Interactive exhibits will encourage visitors to ask themselves how Conner and his family should be remembered in history. Exhibits will also allow visitors to choose what qualities were necessary for someone to be a successful pioneer in Indiana.

The Conner House now more strongly complements William Conner’s story and shows how the family that lived here – and the people who came in and out of the front door – helped shape our state’s history.

The restoration of the Conner Homestead at Conner Prairie is designated an official Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project.

Spanning 800 wooded acres in central Indiana, Conner Prairie welcomes nearly 390,000 visitors of all ages annually. As Indiana’s first Smithsonian Affiliate, Conner Prairie offers various outdoor, historically themed destinations and indoor experiential learning spaces that combine history and art with science, technology, engineering and math to offer an authentic look into history that shapes society today.

Is the Smithsonian in your neighborhood?

December 17, 2015

Smithsonian Institution and Affiliate Collections Come Together for “Super Indian” at the Denver Art Museum

Special thanks for this guest post to: Eric Berkemeyer, Curatorial Assistant of Native Arts, Denver Art Museum

This October the Denver Art Museum opened Super Indian: Fritz Scholder, 1967-1980 which explores how Fritz Scholder used color and composition to create the powerful and innovative works of his Indian series. The exhibition features more than 40 monumental paintings and lithographs, including works loaned from Smithsonian Institution and Affiliate museums. With the support of these institutions the Denver Art Museum was able to realize an exhibition that fully engages with Scholder’s work from the period of 1967 to 1980; highlighting major themes and artistic approaches within the series.


Fritz Scholder, “Indian and Rhinoceros,” 1968, Oil paint on canvas, 68 × 120 in. Collection of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, 268066.000 Photographer: Walter Larrimore, NMAI, © Estate of Fritz Scholder.

From the National Museum of the American Indian comes two works that draw attention to Scholder’s Pop art sensibilities with their bright color, scale, and use of popular, everyday imagery. These paintings, Indian and Rhinoceros (1968) and Walking to the Next Bar (1974), also exhibit his interest in social issues such as the conflicted relationship between American Indians and the Federal government and alcoholism respectively.

Also on view is Indian in Contemporary Chair (1970) from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. With the figure’s gritty, expressionistic rendering, its inclusion contributes to the interpretation of English artist Francis Bacon’s influence on Scholder’s style and composition. Furthermore, the contrast of an Indian subject within a contemporary setting serves to challenge viewers’ assumptions of the place of American Indians in the present day, another theme that runs throughout the exhibition.

Fritz Scholder, Indian at a Gallup Bus Depot, 1969, Oil paint on canvas, 40 × 30 in. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA, 2013.011.001 Photo courtesy Louis Tonsmeire, Jr., © Estate of Fritz Scholder.

Fritz Scholder, “Indian at a Gallup Bus Depot,” 1969, Oil paint on canvas, 40 × 30 in. Booth Western Art Museum permanent collection, Cartersville, GA, 2013.011.001. Photo courtesy Louis Tonsmeire, Jr., © Estate of Fritz Scholder.

In addition to the fourteen works from the Denver Art Museum, works from two other Smithsonian Affiliates are also featured in the exhibition. From the Booth Western Art Museum is Indian at a Gallup Bus Depot (1969) depicting what Scholder called an “Indian cowboy” in front of an arcade machine, highlighting Scholder’s Pop art sensibility as well as the influence of his teacher Wayne Thiebaud. And, from the Heard Museum comes Indian Dying in Nebraska (1972) adding to the exhibitions exploration of dark and mysterious subjects.

With generous institutional support such as this, visitors to the exhibition are better able to explore the rich work of Fritz Scholder. The exhibition continues at the Denver Art Museum until January 17, 2016. It will then travel to the Phoenix Art Museum February 16, 2016 to June 5, 2016 and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, KS June 23, 2016 to September 18, 2016.

August 18, 2015

Starting a teen docent program

Special thanks to guest author Brittany Vernon, IMLS Apprentice at Ohio Affiliate, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, for this inspiring post.

Freedom Center Apprentice Brittany Vernon comes to Washington to work with education colleagues at the Anacostia Community Museum

Freedom Center Apprentice Brittany Vernon comes to Washington to work with education colleagues at the Anacostia Community Museum

As an emerging museum professional, my current position as an IMLS Apprentice at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH, is centered on learning as much as I can within the field while also gaining valuable work experience in my areas of interests. My passions are African American history and culture and public outreach to underrepresented people in museums, so the work that I do for the Freedom Center reflects that. As a co-leader of the museum’s Youth Docent Program, I get to reach out to local high school students, get them excited about what the Freedom Center offers through training seminars, and encourage them to volunteer as tour guides during their summer vacation. Yes, you read that right: teens + museum + volunteering + summer vacation – it seems impossible and certainly makes for a daunting task.  It is also one of the most rewarding projects because of the personal growth and development each student experiences throughout the course of the program once they’re hooked.

Now, when it came time to choose where I would spend my 3-week IMLS internship away from the Freedom Center, I wanted to choose a museum that was engaging in similar work. And for anyone with aspirations of working in the museum field, working in a Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. represents the ultimate in education and museum leadership (besides being a total dream come true!). In picking a museum, I knew the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum [ACM] would be the perfect fit for me because of its focus on urban community issues and populations and its desire to engage teen audiences by starting a youth docent program.

Brittany models the kinds of tours that teens might give of ACM's How the Civil War Changed Washington exhibition.

Brittany models the kinds of tours that teens might give of ACM’s How the Civil War Changed Washington exhibition.

Using existing models including those at the Freedom Center and other Smithsonian Affiliate Museums, the ACM tasked me with creating a guide for a Youth Docent Program that they could implement in upcoming school years. After a week of research, tours and interviews with adult docents and Education staff at the ACM, I was ready to put together a plan. My proposed Youth Docent Program offers teens an opportunity to learn how to interpret museum content for the public and improve their own interpersonal skills and then earn community service hours by giving tours. Through monthly training sessions, teens learn about the content that the museum holds, and that it really is a place for them. Guest speakers and trips expose them to arts/culture-related career options.  Finally, through research and writing assignments, teens feel empowered by the knowledge they now hold and are able to share with the public.

The ACM is not alone in its struggle to get teens into its space.  Museums across the nation have trouble attracting and retaining the interest of teenagers that for the most part would rather be on their phones than walking through a museum.  But from my experiences, a youth docent program is the perfect first step in addressing the gap. When you “hook” teens with things they already enjoy like spending time with like-minded peers, social media, field trips, games and a guaranteed resume building opportunity, they are more willing to invest and learn a lot along the way. The end result is a group of teens that will advocate for your museum and encourage their family and friends to visit if not only to see the teens in action.

Bringing fresh and youthful voices into museum settings that are sometimes thought of as static and rigid only adds to the wealth of knowledge that institutions like this hold, and shows that museums really can serve a purpose for people from all stages and walks of life, which I am all about. I encourage every museum to start some form of teen outreach if they haven’t already.

Brittany passionately pursues African American history and culture, and issues of  freedom and social justice in her museum career.

Brittany passionately pursues African American history and culture, and issues of freedom and social justice in her museum career.

Now that I am back at the Freedom Center, I look forward to continuing my work with the Youth Docent Program with a new group of students this year. I also know that the new Youth Docent Program at the Anacostia Community Museum will be successful in its efforts to connect more with teenagers in the Anacostia neighborhood. Hopefully in a few years, it can evolve to serve as a model for peer institutions that may have similar goals.

Special thanks to IMLS, Smithsonian Affiliations, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for giving me the opportunity to have this experience.







April 14, 2015

New Harmonies, New Opportunities at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Many thanks for this guest post to Rene Rodgers, Ph.D, Associate Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Would you like to be a guest author? Contact us.

At the beginning of August 2014, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCMM) in Bristol, TN/VA, opened its doors for the first time after several years of planning, fundraising, community support, and finally, exhibit design and construction. For everyone who had believed in the museum becoming a reality and worked so hard to make it happen, the grand opening weekend was a real thrill with staff and volunteers, local and regional supporters, and visitors from many states and even other countries, enjoying the museum’s exhibits, live music performances, and a vintage radio show recording.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum at night. Photograph by Fresh Air Photo

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum at night. Photograph by Fresh Air Photo

Since that first day, we’ve had the excitement of opening our first special exhibit, the development of a variety of education and outreach programs, the opportunity to partner with other local museums and cultural organizations, media coverage from outlets such as National Geographic and The New York Times, and so much more. And as one of the oldest Smithsonian Affiliates with one of the newest museums, we’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand the resources and support that are possible through our link to the Smithsonian.

In fact, we saw our community benefit from that affiliation even before the museum opened. Back in 2012, we were able to offer “Youth Capture the Colorful Cosmos,” an after-school astrophotography program for under-served middle school students using the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Micro-Observatory Telescope Network. This program gave these students access to resources and opportunities they might never have had otherwise, a truly significant benefit we were able to share with our community through the Smithsonian.

The New Harmonies crates arrive at BCMM. Birthplace of Country Music Museum

The New Harmonies crates arrive at BCMM. Birthplace of Country Music Museum

More recently, we have opened our first Smithsonian special exhibit – New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music. After its life as a Museum on Main Street (MoMS) traveling exhibit, New Harmonies has now found its permanent home at BCMM, something made possible through the hard work of our Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager Alma Douglas and Carol Harsh, Director of MoMS at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

After several months of negotiating the many steps in the process, 19 huge crates arrived on a truck in January of this year. Unloading and unpacking each of the crates was like opening a treasure chest – each one revealing another piece in the exhibit puzzle: a panel about sacred music, a diddley bow, a flip panel about the Kingston Trio, an audio box, a banner.

In March, we prepared the special exhibits gallery for New Harmonies. Two days were spent with our volunteers figuring out how the panels fit together – using directional pictograms that made it a little bit like putting together IKEA furniture – and working out the best configuration of all the elements in the gallery. We also created some of our own elements to add to the space – a “woodshed” where visitors can watch short videos about how to play various instruments and then have a go themselves and a lounge area where records can be played on a retro record player.

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

BCMM’s core exhibits focus on the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, their role in the development of the commercial country music industry, and the impact of the 1927 recordings on American music. New Harmonies is a wonderful fit for our museum, and its exploration of the distinct cultural identities of American roots music allows us to extend our mission beyond the focus of our core exhibits. It has also proved a wonderful opportunity for developing interesting programming that will give us the chance to bring new audiences to the museum over the coming months – from screening films by Alan Lomax and a concert by Piedmont blues artist John Dee Holeman to a shape note sing and Native American music and dancing. We are also looking into the possibility of sharing this exhibit with smaller regional institutions, libraries, and schools in the future.

Smithsonian affiliation is a real honor, and we are proud to be a part of the affiliate network. More importantly, however, Smithsonian affiliation gives BCMM the chance to bring new exhibits, resources, programming, and so much more to our local community – a way to expand horizons and opportunities. We are excited about what the future will bring!

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Visitors enjoy the New Harmonies exhibit on its opening night at BCMM, March 2015. Photograph by Haley Hensley, Birthplace of Country Music Museum

March 3, 2015

Using field trips to promote critical thinking

Many thanks to Dr. Jodi Kearns, Digital Projects Manager at the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology for this guest post.  The Cummings Center has been a Smithsonian Affiliate since 2002 and is located at the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio.


The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology houses exhibition galleries and extensive archives at its site in Akron.

The mission of the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology (CCHP) is to promote the history of psychology and related human sciences to the broadest community possible. Integral to this mission is offering structured educational opportunities to empower critical thinking about primary source materials held in the CCHP archives. As such, CCHP staff set a goal to make field trips both effortless for local high school teachers and useful to their students in order to encourage teachers from any subject area to bring their classes to the CCHP Museum of Psychology, which exhibits artifacts and documents from the CCHP archives. Organized, well-planned field trips to museums and archives as structured, free-choice learning environments can foster learning experiences that are self-directed and hands-on (Kisiel, 2006). To gain a better understanding of teachers’ perspectives, CCHP staff sent a survey to all high school teachers in the Akron Public Schools in Akron, Ohio during Spring 2012. Results indicated that all of the responding teachers rated field trips as moderately to very important for student learning. When asked to rate the potential helpfulness of various field trip resources for teachers, they rated all the proposed resources—pre- and post-trip activities, onsite activities, learning objectives mapped to curriculum standards, and teacher’s guides to the exhibits—as very helpful.

Local teachers participate in a professional development workshop at CCHP.

Local teachers participate in a professional development workshop at CCHP.

In response to the local educational community’s need for focused field trips identified in the survey, CCHP staff held a free workshop in Fall 2013 for teachers interested in providing more in-depth perspectives of field trips and moderating CCHP staff lesson plan building. This collaborative partnership has resulted in robust three-part lesson plans adaptable to all high school grade levels and mapped to state and core academic content standards in mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts. Each lesson plan suggests activities and materials in which teachers can engage students before, during, and after the field trip. Upon lesson completion, students will have had hands-on engagement with archival materials spanning CCHP collections, including artifacts, photographs, films, rare books, and historical tests. The lesson plans are part of the complete Teachers Resource Package that also includes gallery maps, behavioral guidelines for visits within archives and museums, guides to gallery content, and chaperone guides with instructions for facilitating on-site dialogue around the student-guided gallery guides. Further, archival materials not on display in the public gallery have been placed in the CCHP’s online repository (OCLC’s CONTENTdm) where teachers can access supporting materials from their classrooms for before and after activities.

CCHP's new Measuring the Mind exhibition, funded in part by IMLS.

CCHP’s new Measuring the Mind exhibition, funded in part by IMLS.

This project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museums for America grant, which enabled the installation of a new interactive museum exhibit called Measuring the Mind to capture interest of high school (and other) visitors. Measuring the Mind features artifacts, tests, photographs, and film from CCHP collections and takes museum visitors through some history of testing aptitude, personality, intelligence, and interest.

If you would like to learn more about how to incorporate materials from the history of psychology into your lesson plans or professional development for teachers, or if you know a teacher who might be interested in using our resources, please contact for more information.

High school students on a field trip to CCHP marvel at the artifacts on view.

High school students on a field trip to CCHP marvel at the artifacts on view.

Kisiel, J. (2006). An examination of fieldtrip strategies and their implementation within a natural history museum. Science Education, 90 (3), 434-452.


An example of one of the project's new lesson plans.

An example of one of the project’s new lesson plans.

February 25, 2015

Brand New Exhibitions from SITES

Special thanks to our friends at SITES for this update.

SITES has been busy planning several new exhibits to meet the needs of our diverse host venues. Whether you are looking for a unique and affordable photography exhibit or an epic blockbuster, we’ve got the show for you. Here’s what’s new:

Apart_BikeV2_7x9Things Come Apart
Through extraordinary photographs, disassembled objects and fascinating videos, Things Come Apart reveals the inner workings of common, everyday possessions.  Images of dozens of objects explore how things are made and how technology has evolved over time.  For example, the exhibition juxtaposes the components of a record player, Walkman, and an iPod.  As a visual investigation of design and engineering, Things Come Apart celebrates classic examples of industrial design, technological innovation and more recent ideas about re-use.  The exhibition explores STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) concepts and provides an ideal environment for hands-on investigation.

Contents:  ~40 framed photographs, 4 disassembled objects, video content, and educational component
Fee:  $9,900 per 12-week slot plus outgoing shipping
Size:  200-250 running feet
Security:  Moderate

Tour begins: fall 2016

Contact:  Ed Liskey,, 202.633.3142SWcostumeSITES

Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Warsand the Power of Costume
Presenting 60 of the finest hand-crafted costumes from the first six blockbuster Star Wars films, the exhibition uncovers the challenges, the intricate processes and the remarkable artistry of George Lucas, the concept artists and costume designers. Featured costumes include the robes of Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker; the yak hair and mohair costume of the Wookiee Chewbacca; the elaborately detailed gowns of Queen Amidala, and many more of your favorite Star Wars characters. Learn more about Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen  here.

NARA-cars Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project
Modeled after the Farm Security Administration’s photography project of the 1930s and 40s, DOCUMERICA was launched in 1971 by the newly established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to document the environmental troubles and triumphs across the country.  What emerged was a moving and textured portrait of America in a rapidly changing society. Includes  90 framed, color photographs and a video. Learn more about Searching for the Seventies here.

Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard
From the beauty of postwar garden design to the history of the rise of the suburbs and the environmental movement, Patios & Pools is a groovy look back at how the mid-century backyard became an extension of the house: a “room” designed for relaxing, recreation, cooking, and entertaining. Featuring period photographs, retro advertisements, pop culture references, and influential landscape designs. Learn more Patios & Pools  here.5-farnham2

Looking to fill an opening in your calendar? These exhibitions are available for immediate booking:

IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas
Available: 7/25/15-10/4/15 (reduced fee:  $2,000) and 10/24/15-1/3/16

The Evolving Universe
Available: 10/3/15-1/31/16 and 2/20/16 to 5/15/16

Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard
Available: 12/19/15-2/28/16

I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story
Available: 12/19/15 – 2/28/16 and 3/19/16 – 5/29/16

Contact us at or 202-633-3140.

October 2, 2014

The car of tomorrow… today (at an Affiliate in Pennsylvania)

Smithsonian Affiliations would like to thank Nancy Gates, Director of Marketing & Publicity at the Antique Automobile Museum of America Museum in Hershey, PA for this guest post.

Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum

Image courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum

The enthusiasm and creativity that propelled Preston Tucker and his vision for the Tucker automobile is something that has captured many hearts.   Now, an extensivethe world’s largest- collection of 3 Tucker vehicles and other Tucker automobilia have found their new home at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum [AACAM] in Hershey, Pennsylvania from the David Cammack Collection.

Mr. Cammack, an avid Tucker collector, passed away in 2013 and provided his extensive Tucker Collection to the AACA Museum.  His desire was to have this collection open to the public, and the AACA Museum is honored to be the caretakers of this collection.


A close-up look inside a Tucker automobile. Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.

The Cammack collection includes three 1948 Tucker vehicles, the factory Tucker test chassis, thousands of engineering drawings and blueprints, original Tucker parts, several engines as well as other artifacts and displays.   The vehicles include Tucker #1001 – the first ‘production’ prototype; Tucker #1022; and Tucker #1026 – the only existing Tucker built with an automatic transmission.

A total of 51 Tuckers were built by hand in Chicago, of which 47 are known to still exist.  (Even the Smithsonian has one.) Preston Tucker and his story were detailed in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 film, Tucker: The Man and His Dream which certainly helped bolster the public’s intense fascination with the “Car of Tomorrow.”

The Tucker collection is being housed permanently in a dedicated 5,200 sq. ft. gallery that showcases the cars and chronicles Preston Tucker’s life and history.   AACAM will host a Grand Opening on October 8th to debut Phase 1 of the exhibit, and will continue to provide additional interactive elements to enhance the exhibit over time.

“The AACA Museum intends to educate our guests about Tucker’s process and determination to create something special,” stated Mark Lizewskie, Executive Director.   “We listened carefully to input from Mr. Cammack and his family, and we were quite pleased to learn that it mirrored our vision.  The end result needed to be something that would complement the stunning displays that are already on view throughout the Museum.  Being a permanent display, we knew the Cammack Tucker Gallery had to be fantastic right from the start.”

Preston Tucker’s family, including grandson John Jr. and great-grandsons Mike and Sean Tucker, has also endorsed the project, expressing their willingness to act as historical advisors.  Sean Tucker was elated to be a crucial part of the exhibit.  “The effort being put forth by the AACA Museum team in the presentation of the Cammack Tucker collection is not only an honor to the Tucker family but also to the man who had an amazing passion to preserve the history of the Tucker story,” exclaimed Sean Tucker.  “As a member of the Tucker family it is truly a privilege to serve as a historical advisor to this exciting endeavor.”

Take a drive through history!  Tickets for the grand opening are available by calling 717-566-7100 ext. 100 or online at

Preston Tucker's business card.  Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.

Preston Tucker’s business card. Photo courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.


Click here to read more about the Tucker in Smithsonian Magazine and to see a video with collector David Cammack.

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