October 4, 2014
We’ve all had this experience right? You have a favorite museum that you visit all the time. Then one day, you hear from staff about all the behind-the-scenes work they did to bring something amazing to the museum floor, and you gain a whole new perspective and appreciation of their work.
I had this delightful experience this week. Being from Colorado, I’ve visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) many times with my family growing up. But I was fortunate to attend one day of the Mountain Plains Museum Association (MPMA) Conference in Aspen this week, and heard two staff from DMNS talk about two very different programs that revealed another dimension of their contributions to the community.
Kirk Johnson, former chief curator (and now director of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian) gave the keynote talk at the MPMA Conference about their Snowmastodon Project, a massive and utterly unique discovery of Ice Age fossils at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village in the Colorado Rockies.
National Museum of Natural History director Kirk Johnson, digging for mastodon bones in Colorado.
In 2010, a bulldozer driver working on an expansion of the Reservoir uncovered bones of a juvenile mammoth. Years later, having tapped an army of volunteers including local school teachers from the Aspen area and world-renowned Ice Age scientists, the Museum recovered over 6000 bones from 50 different species from the site including Ice Age horses, a camel, mastodons of all ages, and a giant bison. There are no other comparable sites at this elevation (over 6000 feet), and the diversity of the mammals represented is extraordinary.
The fossils are now cleaned and preserved, and are in top-rate storage or on view for the benefit of scholars and the public. And the finishing touch? Just this week, the Museum installed a 19-foot bronze sculpture of a mastodon (which would have dwarfed a modern-day elephant by the way). Here’s a timelapse video of its installation.
Later in the afternoon, I sat in on an excellent session with Andréa Giron from the Museum’s Visitor Insights Department (and a Affiliations Visiting Professional alumna). Andréa discussed all the ways the Museum has researched its Latino audiences in particular, and the ways they are honing their programming to attract this important audience. Why? Because the Museum wants its visitation to mirror the demographics of its community (as we all do!), and can boast Latino visitation that is slightly higher than the national average as a result of their efforts. Andréa shared some great ideas such as:
Staff makes sure kids feel right at home at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
1) crowdsource translation of your materials so they actually make sense to your audience. Google Translate just doesn’t capture nuance!
2) Think about your family membership category. Latino audiences in particular tend to visit in multi-generational groups of 6 or more. DMNS created a Family Plus membership to respond.
3) Language can sometimes be a barrier. Andréa surveyed DMNS staff and found a range of Spanish-speakers, including security and facilities staff, who now wear buttons on the floor offering help to visitors in Spanish. (She also found unexpected speakers of Dutch and ASL experts as well!)
I am always inspired by the great work of our Affiliates, especially when I have the privilege to hear it first-hand from the colleagues doing it. Bravo DMNS! Can’t wait to bring my family back on my next visit to Colorado.
Jennifer Brundage is a National Outreach Manager in Smithsonian Affiliations.
August 29, 2014
On Saturday, August 30, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will bring back the American bison in a new exhibit and habitat. Zora and Wilma are not only beautiful animals, but they also serve as an important reminder about conservation and the Zoo’s inception. In 1887, American bison wandered the National Mall, helping to bring awareness to the endangerment of the species. Two years later, Congress passed legislation to found the National Zoo, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
Bison roam around the Smithsonian Castle, 1887-89
At Affiliations, we are wallowing in the excitement of welcoming these magnificent animals to Washington. So we decided to scan our herd of partners, to see where else the mighty American bison are roaming among Affiliate plains. We found a virtual stampede of bison content in Affiliateland!
– It seems appropriate to start in Wyoming, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. After all, it was “Buffalo Bill” Cody who offered the Smithsonian a herd of 18 bison in 1888. Painfully, the gift had to be refused for lack of space on the National Mall. But today, you can find plenty of bison material at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody. The Center’s museums house an impressive collection of art depicting “Nature’s Cattle,” including beautiful Audubon prints as well as Native artifacts made from the bison, and natural history specimens.
“Scout” at the Durham Museum in Omaha
– It was a Nebraska rancher who donated the very first bison to the Smithsonian’s collection, so it seems natural to travel on to Omaha to visit “Scout,” the beloved bison on view at the Durham Museum. At 7 ½’ high and 10’ long, this magnificent specimen helps to tell the important story of the Midwest’s history with the bison. As part of their bison interpretation, the Durham Museum uses the online resource Tracking the Buffalo from the National Museum of American History. Go ahead – take the site’s interactive test to guess what you could make from all the parts of the animal.
– Some bison though, were revered beyond all that they could provide for Native people. A white bison is extremely rare, appearing once in approximately five million births. For this reason, these animals are considered sacred and possess great spiritual power to Native and non-Native people alike. Given this extreme rarity, where could you ever see one now?! The Montana Historical Society in Helena displays “Big Medicine,” a white buffalo who died in 1959. With blue eyes, tan hooves, and a brown topknot, there’s still plenty of reasons to revere the beauty of this extraordinary specimen today.
“Big Medicine” on view at the Montana Historical Society
– As rare as Big Medicine is, perhaps no bison has the hometown spirit of “On the Wind,” the massive bronze bison who greets visitors to the History Colorado Center in Denver. He’s been seen wearing bandannas when the stock show comes to town, a Broncos jersey during football season, and even a bike helmet during the recent Pro Challenge cycling race through the state. He’s also an important reminder of the stories told inside the Center about the historic relationship between bison and the peoples of the West.
– To travel even further back in time, check out the archeological remains of a gigantic Ice Age bison at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Excavated from the Colorado Rockies, this iconic specimen and its neighbors represent one of the most significant fossil discoveries ever made in Colorado. How gigantic was it? Twice the size of a modern bison! How do we know? It had a horn spread more than 7’ wide (compared with the 2 ½’ spread of the modern buffalo).
“On the Wind” in Denver reflects the community
– If you’re finding it hard to imagine the size of a modern bison without actually seeing one, the South Dakota State Historical Society can help you out. They’ve devised a fun 30-page coloring sheet called How Big is a Buffalo. Bison make quite an appearance in the Society’s education kits, which include objects, lesson plans, worksheets and ideas for additional activities. The Buffalo and Plains Indians, Lewis and Clark, and Archeology kits are just a few that explore all facets of this great American species.
– Lest you think the Affiliate bison only roam west of the Mississippi, think again. The Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut is currently displaying The Bison: American Icon exhibition, which explores “the dramatic changes that occurred to the bison and its habitat, and to the people who depended on it for their daily existence.” At the end of September, the Museum invites visitors to take the Bison Challenge – an outdoor activity that will test your speed, strength, and senses against the performance of a bison. Good luck!
The Bison: American Icon exhibit on view at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum
As the song goes, “oh give me a home… “ It’s gratifying to see how many Affiliate “homes” across America celebrate the iconic bison, and that the Smithsonian will soon provide two of them a home in the nation’s capital.
How does your museum interpret the mighty bison? (We’re looking at you Idaho and Oklahoma) Tell us your stories!
(Footnote: “bison” and “buffalo” are often used interchangeably. Culturally this is correct; scientifically it is not. Technically, bison and buffalo are not the same animal. Click here to compare their differences.)
The author is a National Outreach Manager in Smithsonian Affiliations, and a long-time buffalophile.
September 24, 2013
Congrats to these Affiliates making news! Each month we highlight Affiliate-Smithsonian and Affiliate-Affiliate collaborations making headlines. If you have a clipping highlighting a collaboration with the Smithsonian or with a fellow Affiliate you’d like to have considered for the Affiliate blog, please contact Elizabeth Bugbee.
Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post – Kirk Johnson of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, is pictured through the cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex head.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science (Denver, Colorado)
Meet the Smithsonian’s fossil guy
“Kirk Johnson, the museum’s director, isn’t your typical coat-and-tie Washingtonian. In fact, the paleontologist and former chief curator for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is happiest when he’s digging in the dirt in search of fossils. Add a lasso and a hat, and you’d get something like Indiana Jones (only he’s a stickler for permits).”
Frost Museum of Art (Miami, Florida)
“Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” Opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Oct. 25
“The exhibition will tour the U.S. after closing at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Confirmed venues include The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami (March 28, 2014 – June 22, 2014)…”
Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, Massachusetts)
Mashpee Wampanoag dugout canoe on way to Smithsonian
“It’s huge,” Coombs said of the honor of having the Smithsonian accept the mishoon. “We’ve always been on the map, but a lot of people think of the Indians as only being in the West.”
Traditional Wampanoag canoe made at Plimoth Plantation headed to the Smithsonian
Darius Coombs, associate director of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program, came up with the idea of making a mishoon for donation to the Smithsonian. He calls the Smithsonian’s acceptance of the canoe an honor.
PLIMOTH PLANTATION: Mishoon accepted by Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
“It’s an honor that the Smithsonian will accept it, and we enjoy doing new work – it keeps the job challenging,” Coombs said. “It has been a fun and educational experience. The mishoon is an invaluable piece that will add depth to the Smithsonian’s already rich representation of Northeast Native life.”
Plimoth Plantation makes replica of Native American canoe for Smithsonian
Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Indigenous Program has been creating mishoons, traditional Native American canoes, for the past 40 years, but this year the hard work is being recognized. On Thursday, a mishoon made this spring will be ready to leave for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Japanese American laborers at Tule Lake War Relocation Center. (Library of Congress)
Smithsonian Accepts Dugout Canoe from Plimoth Plantation
“As a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Native American communities, we’re delighted to welcome a creation like this one that represents a living tradition among the Wampanoag,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee) Director, National Museum of the American Indian
Institute of Texan Cultures (San Antonio, Texas)
Beloved Institute Of Texan Cultures Planning For The Future
“I think that’s one thing absolutely fantastic about the history of the United States is that you do not necessarily have to be from that place to make a difference. And I still think that continues today because we see it throughout the wonderful history of our country,” Docog said.
US Space and Rocket Center (Huntsville, Alabama)
Part 3: Barnhart Looks Ahead 5 Years, Talks about Da Vinci Exhibition
“We will have a world quality institution for life,” said Dr. Barnhart. “We are a Smithsonian affiliate, and it’s our job to tell the story of our region and the innovation and the place of invention that Huntsville is. My job is to make sure it’s strong, financially stable, and continues to tell that story well into the generations.”
Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, CA)
‘I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story’ Opens at JANM Sept. 14
The air is turning crisp, but Affiliate accomplishments continue to shine!
Chabot Space & Science Center (Oakland, CA) was presented a “Waste Management Cares” award in the amount of $95,000 for their environmental education programming.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced the recipients for the Museums for America and National Leadership Grants for Museums programs featuring the following Affiliates:
History Colorado (Denver, CO)
Award Amount: $134,425; Matching Amount: $214,622
History Colorado will design, create, pilot, and evaluate five multilevel 21st century skills-based Colorado History Digital Badges for children in fourth, seventh, and eleventh grades. Each badge will challenge students to complete various quests or activities in conjunction with the learning standards for their appropriate grade.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science (Denver, CO)
Award Amount: $149,965; Matching Amount: $150,099
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science will purchase new storage cabinets to rehouse its Asian collection of 1,130 objects, and enter collections information into its database, making images available for publication through its website. The collection illustrates the main materials, designs, and technologies used by indigenous cultures of China, Taiwan, Japan, South Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Mystic Seaport Museum (Mystic, CT)
Award Amount: $80,343; Matching Amount: $85,864
Mystic Seaport will catalog, digitally photograph, and place a group of 4,950 objects and photographs into secure storage. The items were selected to support an online learning project for students and teachers, and programming associated with whaling and the restoration and planned voyage of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, a National Historic Landmark.
B & O Railroad Museum (Baltimore, MD)
Award Amount: $135,232; Matching Amount: $185,880
The B&O Railroad Museum will restore the B&O #600 J.C. Davis locomotive that was severely damaged by a collapsed museum roof in a 2003 blizzard. It is one of only two locomotives surviving from Philadelphia’s1876 Centennial Exposition. Four staff and 10 trained volunteers will restore the engine to its 1875 appearance.
USS Constitution Museum (Boston, MA)
Award Amount: $280,623; Matching Amount: $286,936
The USS Constitution Museum (USSCM) will use its grant to identify characteristics of family programming that result in active intergenerational engagement, enjoyment, and learning in museums and libraries. The project seeks to create a robust yet flexible set of guidelines for creating genuine intergenerational learning experiences disseminated through workshops, online resources, conferences, and publications.
Michigan State University Museum (East Lansing, MI)
Award Amount: $77,292; Matching Amount: $81,117
The Michigan State University Museum will purchase archivally stable storage materials, museum-quality cabinets, and a mobile storage system to create appropriate storage for an 827-box prehistoric and historic archaeological collection to ensure its safety and that of its users and to provide capacity for future collection expansion. The rehousing project will facilitate access by faculty, graduate students, and visiting scholars who regularly use the collections.
Center for the History of Psychology, University of Akron (Akron, OH)
Award Amount: $52,454; Matching Amount: $55,038
The Center for the History of Psychology will partner with 10 local high school teachers to design, implement, and evaluate educational resources to provide meaningful, informative, and memorable fieldtrips. The teachers will attend a one-day workshop to brainstorm with the project team. The museum will develop a Teachers Resource Package with guides to the museum, exhibits, and classroom activities; lesson plans based on state standards; and an online repository of archival materials for classroom activities. The museum will also create a “Measuring the Mind” interactive exhibit for teenagers and young adults, providing access to historical materials from the collections.
Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (Seattle, WA)
Award Amount: $150,000; Matching Amount: $167,269
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience will produce a newly designed tour program to empower the Asian Pacific American community to share their stories, help stimulate the local economy, and promote the historic and cultural vibrancy of the district. The Chinatown International District, on the National Register of Historic Places, is Seattle’s lowest-income neighborhood, struggling with multiple issues that threaten its preservation.
Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, WY)
Award Amount: $149,958; Matching Amount: $153,004
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center will complete a two-year Picturing Buffalo Bill project to digitize 6,000 photographs in its McCracken Research Library related to the life and career of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Staff will scan, catalog, and upload images to expand the “Buffalo Bill Online Archive” on the museum’s website, along with subject headings and descriptive metadata.
The Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, MI) has earned accredition by the American Alliance of Museums.
Clarence G. “C.G.” Newsome, Ph.D. is the new president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati, OH)
The Board of Trustees of the Long Island Museum (Stony Brook, NY) announced that Neil Watson has been appointed Executive Director.
October 26, 2012