As the Smithsonian museums enter the 21st century, at least one division is shooting for the 23rd. This afternoon, the Smithsonian Latino Center opened the first Smithsonian museum in cyberspace. Built on five islands in the 3-D virtual world Second Life, which draws over 100 million 100,000 visitors a month, the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum is a risky but potentially rewarding venture. The museum's mission is provide a fully interactive education in Latino culture to schoolchildren and people around the world, as long as they are in avatar form.
"More than just increasing access for the many people who may not ever make a trip to Washington, D.C., the Museum offers quality Latino content," said Eduardo Díaz, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center. "These are stories that risk never being told and are now being offered via an engaged, global online community."
Some of the exhibits that virtual visitors can frequent is the Afro-Cuban instrument room; the "Son Clave" music lounge, featuring digital collections from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings; the amphitheater and the Smithsonian Expedition Wing, where users can learn about archaeological expeditions in Mexico through the work of Matthew Sterling; and the Olmec Legacy Collection at the National Museum of Natural History.
Several big names came together to build the virtual museum, making it an experiment in public education that could pave the way for more like it in the future. In addition to the Smithsonian, the Virtual Immersive Technologies and Arts for Learning Lab at Ohio University, Linden Labs and Disney were involved in the Latino museum's construction.
Unfortunately, my connection was too slow to try it myself. But I was able to quickly create an avatar and download the program for free. If you were able to visit, please share your first reactions in the comments section below.