The Top Things to Do at the Smithsonian in 2011

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Whether you pronounce it “twenty eleven” or “two thousand eleven;” whether you’re looking forward to it being The Year of the Rabbit, The Year of the Tablet, or The International Year of Chemistry, we’d like to send you off the right way, with a list of The Top 11 Things you should definitely find time to do around the Smithsonian this year.

1. What could be cuter than four lion cubs? Well, how about seven. The first four cubs—John, Fahari, Zuri, and Lelie — were born to mother Shera back in August of 2010. And a month later, three more cubs—Baruti, Aslan, and Lusaka—were born to Shera’s sister, Nababiep. Luke, the Zoo’s male lion, is the father. These births mark the first time in more than 20 years that the National Zoo has had lion cubs, so don’t miss out!

2. Need a respite from the dreary winter weather? Check out the Orchids—A View from the East exhibit, (Jan. 29- April 24), at the National Museum of Natural History. Enjoy their beauty and learn about their uses in and importance to various areas of Chinese culture. And if you like orchids, the Sackler Gallery is complimenting the live display with 20 works that celebrate the graceful flower as it appears in Chinese paintings. That show opens January 15 and runs through July 17.

3. In other cultural news, is the U.S. post-racial? Can it ever be? And more importantly, how can we ever expect to get beyond race without first understanding exactly what it is? Well, the Natural History Museum’s traveling exhibit, Race: Are We So Different? seeks to help us figure it all out. Opening June 18, the show promises to challenge what we already think we know about race.

4. Five, four, three, two, one. The countdown has begun to the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program, scheduled for this year. It’s the perfect opportunity to visit the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Whether you’re interested in space shuttles, military aircraft, rockets, or missiles, the hangars at Udvar-Hazy have got you covered. Literally.

5. It has been said that diamonds are forever and that hope springs eternal, so we can expect the Hope Diamond to be around for a while. But its temporary setting, “Embracing Hope,” designed by Harry Winston to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the jewel’s donation to the Natural History Museum, won’t be. Chosen from three designs in a competition last year, it’s a certified stunner. Intrigued yet? Check out the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary film, "Mystery of the Hope Diamond" to get the whole story.

6. And speaking of anniversaries, it’s the sesquicentennial of The Civil War and the Smithsonian has got you covered. Take a step back into the history you thought you knew, with exhibits covering the scope of the war from Lincoln’s legacy, and wartime realities told through artifacts and images, to the black experience pre- and post-emancipation, told through art and artifacts. Continue to check out for your complete guide to the events discussing the Civil War.

7. Pop quiz! What do the buffalo, the great sequoia, Niagara Falls, the gun, the railroad and the clock all have in common? The answer: They all inspired creative thinking.  How? Find out when the exhibit, The Great American Hall of Wonders opens July 15 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

8. Feeling crafty? Join in a celebration of both the function and the artistic form featuring the works of artists Cliff Lee (ceramics), Matthias Pliessnig (furniture), Judith Schaechter (glass) and Ubalo Vitali (silver), during the Renwick Craft Invitational, opening March 25 at the Renwick Gallery.

9. Each year, the National Mall transforms into the destination for culture, art, music, food and fun during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, one of the ATM team’s favorite events. Join us for this year’s celebration, June 30-July 4 and July 7-11, where the focus will be on Colombia, the Peace Corps (in honor of their 50th birthday), and Rhythm and Blues in America. Come learn about how their contributions have added to the rich fabric of our society and to see what folklife is all about.

10. You're probably familiar with the work of Alexander Calder—the abstract sculptures, the vibrant colors, and the wire mobiles—and have seen it gracing the grounds and galleries at the Hirshhorn. But be sure not to miss the new exhibition, "A New Language," featuring his three-dimensional wire portraits of iconic figures like Josephine Baker, Babe Ruth, and Charles Lindbergh on display at the Portrait Gallery beginning March 11.

11. If you’ve never been to Hawaii, the National Museum of the American Indian's annual Hawai’i Festival (May 21- 22) is the next best thing. Enjoy music, dancing, food, and films. And be sure to check out the museum’s "This IS Hawai’i" exhibition to see works from contemporary Hawaiian artists as they explore what it means to be “Hawaiian,” starting May 19.

For more great ideas,  updates, help planning your trip, or just directions around the Smithsonian, visit

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