Kevin Gover requests the pleasure of your company at the opening of phase one of the imagiNATIONS Activity Center
When I first visited the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC, like most people, I saw a beautiful, elegant place with intriguing and informative exhibitions. As I watch visitors to the museum, I notice that visitors experience the museum rather solemnly. That is fine for the adults who seek a thoughtful and contemplative experience. If you’re a kid, though, that can be pretty boring.
And in fact we found that our younger visitors have a hard time finding fun things to do in the museum. So about two years ago we decided to take the educational resource center space on the third floor and make it into a place for families and children, in order to provide greater opportunities for our younger visitors to engage with Native cultures.
I assigned a project manager who built a team, and I gave the team one direction: Make a dynamic space for young people to learn and have fun. The team started by looking at other spaces and talking with colleagues, both inside the Smithsonian and at institutions in other cities. In the end, they decided on a space that children and adults alike would be comfortable visiting. They wanted a range of activities to cover a variety of interests. And they wanted everything to be immersive and hands-on.
This was a challenging assignment, rather different from the mounting of a traditional museum exhibition. It’s a different way of thinking, of designing, and of building. But when talented and creative people work together, good results are possible. I could not be more excited about this new space and what the staff has accomplished.
We will open the imagiNATIONS Activity Center in three stages: in September, in October, and in early 2012. I walked through the space the other day and watched crews installing the September components: One group was mounting skate decks for the skateboard activity, while another was installing the shelf wall for the "snow" blocks of the build-it-yourself iglu. A third group was on scaffolding in the back, assembling the poles for our Amazonian stilt house, while a fourth was working on the interactive quiz show at the entrance. Our exhibitions development team is producing life-size spin puzzles and the skeleton of a giant basket. Boxes of supplies are arriving daily, and the final details for the opening programs are getting settled.
On opening day, September 25, we will have some very special guests—several children from the Amazonian rainforest in Peru, whose photographs were the model for our stilt house. They will be in the imagiNATIONS Center at 11:30 to talk about their home and their photography. Also, Kekaulele Kawai‘ae‘a, a young Native Hawaiian author, will read from his book at 1 and 3 PM, and Juanita Velasco, an Ixil Maya weaver from Guatemala, will do weaving demonstrations and workshops from 10:30 to 12:30 and 2 to 4 PM.
It feels like this day took a long time to come. We cannot wait to share this space with you, our visitors. I welcome you to the NMAI family and invite you to join me in opening this new museum space on September 25. I hope you’ll be as excited as I am, and that I’ll see you here many times.
—Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director, National Museum of the American Indian
Photographs (top to bottom): At the entrance to the imagiNATIONS Activity Center, column-spin puzzles address several goals: inviting visitors to engage in hands-on activities, encouraging people to notice how different cultures express their unique identity, and letting children know that this part of the museum has been created especially for them.
The iglu activity space takes shape. Despite the woodworking clamps where text panels are being mounted at the left, no glueing will be permitted once iglu-building commences!
Dwellings from four different parts of the Americas—an Amazonian stilt house, iglu, adobe (below), and tipi (coming in phase 2 or 3)—help young museum-goers experience how cultures reflect the world around them.