Should We Close Museum IMAX Theaters? My Views on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

Posted on August 10, 2017 at 3:02 am

Many thanks to the Kojo Nnamdi Show for inviting me on to talk about a tough issue–the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum has announced it will be tearing down its IMAX theater to make room for more space for its cafeteria and some exhibit space. I love IMAX nature films and old-school IMAX screens that create a fully immersive experience. But the Smithsonian found that the audiences were shrinking and increasingly the films were playing to empty seats. I discussed this issue with IMAX filmmaker Jonathan Barker and then talked about why local theaters still matter, even in a world of very fancy home theater settings, with non-profit Avalon Theater manager Bill Oberdorfer. Listen here. And if you want to join those opposing the demolition of the Smithsonian’s IMAX screen, visit

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Smithsonian’s New African-American History Museum: Virtual Tour

Posted on September 6, 2016 at 3:57 pm

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest addition to the Smithsonian, is finally opening this month. Free tickets for the first few weeks are already gone, but everyone can take a virtual tour of exhibits like “Musical Crossroads” featuring artifacts like Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, and an immersive visual presentation. Musical performances on the surrounding screens include artists as varied as Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Outkast. In the Sports Gallery, a life-size sculpture records the moment at the 1968 Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the air on the medal podium and tributes to legends like Michael Jordan and the Williams sisters. The museum’s theater is named for major donor Oprah Winfrey.

Copyright Smithsonian 2016
Copyright Smithsonian 2016

As visitors wait for the elevator, they will view a wall of thought-provoking and inspiring quotes. And the casket of slain teenager Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman, will be on view, with a recording of his mother telling the story.

Museum director Lonnie Bunch wrote in Smithsonian Magazine:

I think the museum needs to be a place that finds the right tension between moments of pain and stories of resiliency and uplift. There will be moments where visitors could cry as they ponder the pains of the past, but they will also find much of the joy and hope that have been a cornerstone of the African-American experience. Ultimately, I trust that our visitors will draw sustenance, inspiration and a commitment from the lessons of history to make America better. At this time in our country, there is a great need for contextualization and the clarity that comes from understanding one’s history. I hope that the museum can play a small part in helping our nation grapple with its tortured racial past. And maybe even help us find a bit of reconciliation.

The museum pays tribute to the environment as well, seeking to become the first Gold LEED-certified building on the National Mall. Solar cells on the building’s roof produce electricity to heat water for the structure. Other sustainability-driven features include the green roof along Constitution Avenue and the water recycling and filtration system. The three-tiered trapezoid shape of the bronze corona that wraps around the outside of the glass building is inspired by a sculpture from the early 20th-century Yoruban artist Olowe of Ise of a woman wearing a three-tiered crown. Most of the building is underground, so that the structure does not overwhelm the nearby Washington Monument and other icons of the Mall.

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Submit Your Own Family Tradition Photos to the Smithsonian Folklife Center

Posted on June 21, 2016 at 8:00 am

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the American Folklife Center and its congressional mandate to “preserve and present American folklife,” the American Folklife Center is inviting people to share photos of their own folklife traditions.

Do you prepare a family recipe that goes back for generations? Do you sing, dance, tell stories, sew, quilt, craft, or make things by hand as part of a family, ethnic, regional, or occupational tradition? If so, we’d love your photos! We’re looking specifically for photos of a folklife tradition in which you participate yourself. The photo doesn’t necessarily have to include you, but that would be nice—and selfies are welcome.

The process is simple: take some photos of your folklife tradition, then upload one or more to Flickr with the tag “MyTradition” and a Creative Commons license.

At the end of 2016, the Library of Congress will harvest photos that have both the tag and a license, and add them to the AFC’s collections.

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The Original Starship Enterprise is Being Restored at the Smithsonian

Posted on February 2, 2016 at 3:55 pm

The Washington Post reports that the original “Star Trek” spaceship, the legendary Enterprise, is going to be restored in a delicate months-long process.

Enterprise is a venerable ship — launched in 1964 at a Burbank, Calif., prop maker’s shop for the original “Star Trek” television series.

Ariel O’Connor, a conservator at the museum, shows where screws were hidden under a rail on the main body of the Enterprise model. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
It’s also a piece of history, along with the Wright Brothers’ “Flyer” and Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis.”

The museum is now restoring the make-believe voyager as a part of America’s real-life air and space heritage.

The original Captain Kirk is coming to DC for a one-man show. Maybe he’ll make a visit to see how his old ship is doing.

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