Lessons from the Mall

From courses to cruises, the Smithsonian has educational and cultural adventures for everyone

I had the pleasure recently of awarding the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal to filmmaker George Lucas before an enthusiastic audience of 1,400 Smithsonian members and guests. The opportunity arose in connection with the opening of the popular new "Star Wars" exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian Associates (TSA), the education and outreach program for the Institution's members, had invited Mr. Lucas and two of his colleagues to take part in a seminar on the art and craft of contemporary filmmaking.

Participating in this event reminded me, once again, of the vital role The Smithsonian Associates plays in the life of the Institution. With its multitude of educational and travel opportunities, the organization is critical to our mandate to spread knowledge to the broadest possible public. TSA's range of unique educational programs--in-depth seminars and courses; interviews with policymakers, artists and innovators; performances and film presentations; African American Studies Center programs; children's workshops; hands-on studio-arts classes and study tours to all parts of the world--brings the knowledge and talents of today's intellectual and cultural leaders to hundreds of thousands of people. The program with George Lucas--one of more than 1,500 that The Smithsonian Associates offers each year to residents of the greater Washington region--is a fine example of TSA's ability to attract experts in contemporary culture and scholarship.

In addition to day trips for area residents, The Smithsonian Associates extends the reach of the Institution across the country through its study tours. Some 350 trips a year offer unlimited opportunities to explore the world in the company of fellow Associates and outstanding scholars. As part of its outreach efforts, TSA also takes Smithsonian resources into communities like yours. One such program is Voices of Discovery, which brings Smithsonian experts into classrooms, museums, libraries and other public places. In 1997 alone, The Smithsonian Associates presented 400 free programs to more than 25,000 people in five metropolitan areas visited by the "America's Smithsonian" traveling exhibition.

Considering that The Smithsonian Associates receives no federal funding--it is supported largely through income generated by participation fees--the reach of its activities is truly impressive. On the day that we honored George Lucas, members of The Smithsonian Associates, as well as others in the Washington area, had an opportunity to participate in a wide variety of programs. Civil War buffs enjoyed a lecture on Ulysses S. Grant; others attended courses ranging from "Coral Reefs" to "The Ming Dynasty," and aspiring artists selected from five studio-arts courses, including calligraphy and photography. Graduate students from the Parsons School of Design attended an American heritage seminar cosponsored by TSA and our Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Beyond the National Mall on that same day last October, Smithsonian Associates were on the road with TSA's study tours. Some had just arrived in Bluff, Utah, for a photography seminar. Others were learning about the folk art and music of Mexico in the Jalisco region--famous as the birthplace of mariachi music. In Kathmandu, Nepal, our members strolled through colorful bazaars. Other study tour travelers explored Greece, Italy and Costa Rica; some were aboard the Marco Polo en route to the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, TSA staff were putting final touches on weekend tours to Chinatown in Washington, D.C., and to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

Closer to my office that day, schoolchildren attended performances in TSA's Discovery Theater, which presents such original productions as Platero, written by Nobel Prize-winning poet Juan Ramón Jiménez. With more than 20 productions each year, Discovery Theater provides 70,000 children and teenagers with an opportunity to see and participate in live theater.

All this on a single weekday! TSA reaches more people than it can count, especially as it makes use of various technologies. Some of its programs are now available on audiocassettes; it just completed its first video for cable distribution, and Discovery Theater's scripts and study guides are available on the Web. To learn more about all of The Smithsonian Associates' activities, visit the TSA Website at www.si.edu/tsa.

The Smithsonian Associates comprises an extraordinary intellectual campus--one that is far-reaching and diverse, and of which the Institution can be justly proud.

Get the latest History stories in your inbox?

Click to visit our Privacy Statement.