Road to the FUTURES: The Smithsonian will invite in travellers with an exciting new exhibition

To mark its 175th anniversary, The Smithsonian will host an exhibition on our future lives. In an exclusive interview, Rachel Goslins, Director of Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building tells us that Indian travellers are “deeply important” to what they do

Can you step into human history and its future at the same time? You just might be able to soon. A star attraction in Washington are the series of buildings on the National Mall between the striking Capitol and the towering Washington Monument, collectively today The Smithsonian Institution, or just The Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex. 

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Exterior view of The Smithsonian Arts + Industries, which will temporarily reopen in November for the first time in nearly two decades. Photograph: Ron Blunt

Come November, till July 2022, The Smithsonian tantalizes with the prospect of a look into our future.

To mark its 175th anniversary, The Smithsonian is putting up an exhibition, or ‘experience’, titled FUTURES. Part exhibition-part festival, it will be in the Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building, otherwise known as America’s first National Museum, which is being reopened just for this occasion.

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Past Futures of FUTURES in the North Hall of the Arts + Industries Building.
Rendering courtesy: Rockwell Group


An immersive art experience

FUTURES is the Smithsonian’s first building-wide exploration of the future. On display will be nearly 32,000sq.ft of new immersive site-specific art installations, interactives, working experiments, inventions, speculative designs and “artifacts of the future,” as well as historic objects and discoveries from 23 of the Smithsonian’s museums, major initiatives and research centres.

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Alexander Graham Bell’s experimental telephone. Courtesy: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Exhibits will begin with the past i.e. past ideas of the future such as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone from 1876 or the Olivetti Studio 46 typewriter. Expect to encounter early androids and barrier-breaking rockets. There will be several previously unseen exhibits, such as a Loon internet balloon, an AI-driven rover from Alphabet’s X that could transform agriculture, a Planetary Society space sail for deep space travel, the world’s first controlled nuclear fusion machine and the first full-scale Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome built in North America among others.

FUTURES will also debut a series of new art commissions and a selection of large-scale technology projects that will be unveiled throughout 2021. Each offers visitors a chance to encounter emerging trends in human creativity and connection that are actively transforming the world—from artworks based on intelligent technology to new ways to design cities, to hyper-fast travel and air taxis. Also to be marvelled at are future foods, a spacesuit that fits like a second skin, a working water harvester pulling liquid from the air, an algae bioreactor that cleans as much air as a 400-acre forest and much more.

(Left) Mineral Rover, X, The Moonshot Factory, a division on Google LLC. Photograph: Courtesy X, The Moonshot Factory, a division of Google LLC. (Right) Spacesuit Testing Android, the 1960s, IIT Research Institute, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph: Courtesy National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Brought to life by David Rockwell and his award-winning architecture and design firm Rockwell Group, FUTURES will unfold across four unique environments, one in each of AIB’s four monumental halls: Past Futures, Futures that Inspire, Futures that Unite and Futures that Work. Rather than attempt prediction, these alternate ways of thinking about the future emphasize that there are many possible futures, which will be determined by individual and collective decisions.

Why go to The Smithsonian

Founded in 1846, and for years the ‘United States National Museum’, The Smithsonian is currently made up of 19 museums and the National Zoo, as well as research centres and a vast collection network with a presence in more than 100 countries around the world.

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The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research institution, dedicated to being an open and free platform for learning.

For 175 years, The Smithsonian has been an opener of doors and a home for big ideas points out Goslins. “The Smithsonian is where we tell our stories, and explore new ideas. It is, by default, America’s ministry of culture. The U.S. is an increasingly diverse society, and the Smithsonian is a place for us to continuously evolve and expand that story of what it means to be an American and a citizen of the world. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research institution, dedicated to being an open and free platform for learning for all Americans, and all visitors around the world.”

Covid, of course, has had an impact, shutting off the museum for months. “While our physical museums closed in March of last year, we are committed to supporting our communities and sharing our vast digital resources,” says Goslins. “We look forward to reopening and welcoming everyone back as soon as it’s safe to do so. During this time, we have expanded the ways anyone anywhere can learn and discover at home through Smithsonian Cares, which includes fascinating podcasts, insights from our online collections, fun activities, and more.”

As for why it was reaching out to India, Goslins says, “The Smithsonian is global in its reach and thinking, and the world is more interconnected than ever. International audiences, including those in India, are deeply important to what we do. On average, some 20 per cent of visitors come from outside the US.”

While FUTURES opens in November, the anniversary will also include a series of online and in-person exhibitions, a celebration event the actual birthday in August, and exciting projects like one that invites the public to join us in planting 175,000 trees.

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Oceanix City, a vision for the world’s first resilient and sustainable floating community for 10,000 residents. Photograph: Courtesy Bjarke Ingels Group

The future for the human race is unclear and many are looking for answers. As Goslins says, if we don’t know where we want to get to, we are not going to be able to figure out how to get there. At the moment, what visitors might connect with most could be the COVID-friendly support robot that reduces loneliness! Unless its activist art and ephemera created by groups striving to change the course of their futures.

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