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Smithsonian’s New FUTURES Exhibit Plans to Dazzle Visitors

To celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian, the FUTURES exhibit will be open to visitors as an interactive exploration into the future.

Photo by Aaliyah Seabrooks.

To celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian, the FUTURES exhibit will be open to visitors as an interactive exploration into the future. In one of the most iconic buildings on the National Mall, visitors will be able to talk to an emotional robot, see a train that can go from D.C. to New York City in 30 minutes and do their laundry using water filtered through plants.

Designed by the Rockwell Group, FUTURES is an exhibition designed to give people the tools they need to envision the next steps for society from a perspective of hope and imagination. Artists commissioned for this extensive project were intentionally chosen to represent a diverse future, including artists of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and disabled persons. 

After nearly 20 years of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building being closed to the public, workers are excited to open it for guests to come and enjoy the project that has been in the making for almost three years. As visitors approach the museum, they see a shimmering sculpture made of dichroic glass that changes colors when the sun changes position in the sky. Created by artist Soo Sunny Park, the sculpture is meant to look different to each person who sees it, just like the future.

“This piece is a beautiful illustration of the future in which we all have a voice, but no one has singular control,” Brad MacDonald, director of creative media at the Arts and Industries Building, told The Washington Post. 

With four halls of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building entitled Past Futures, Futures that Work, Futures that Unite and Futures that Inspire, this will be the museum’s first building-wide exploration of the future, with more than 150 objects and installations that will help guests imagine a new world. 

“Unless you can imagine the future you want to live in, you’re not gonna be able to figure out how to get there,” Rachel Goslins, director of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building (AIB), said on an exclusive press and private preview day at the exhibit.

“We have so much help in society right now in terms of what can go wrong in the future, from the news cycle to science fiction, and public intellectuals; and that is an important conversation. But we don’t have nearly as much help imagining what can go right and that is equally important. It would have been easy to do a dark mirror exhibit, but we went in a different direction,” Goslins said at the event.

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The AIB is regarded as a premiere institution in the United States for showcasing some of the most influential ideas of the time such as the first telephone, the lightbulb and the Apollo rockets. This exhibit displays pieces that will challenge spectators to think about how to address different societal issues. 

In the Futures that Work exhibit sits a newly imagined flying car that looks like a helicopter. The Bell Nexus, a self-driving hybrid-electric taxi that can fly, illustrates what a five passenger vehicle could look like by the year 2071 and demands the attention of every visitor that passes it. 

Another popular experience at the exhibit is the “Hi, How R U?” portal located in the Futures that Unite hall. Visitors can strike up conversations with people in other continents, or use an avatar’s voice and facial recognition to leave a recorded message for listeners in the future. 

Visitors can also interact in real-time with people in Doha, Qatar, through a portal site at the Msheireb Downtown Doha building, which is the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project aimed at creating new possibilities for sustainability. 

“It should come as no surprise that, for most of its life, this building was the preeminent showcase and incubator for America’s biggest ideas,” David Rockwell, lead architect at Rockwell Group, told Smithsonian Magazine.

“Now we have the chance to extend that rich legacy to the future that ‘Futures’ brings us today,” Rockwell said. 

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The exhibit will be open every day of the week starting Nov. 20, aside from Tuesday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., with extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays until 7 p.m.. Moreover, on Fridays, the exhibit will feature pop-up experiences. The FUTURES exhibit will be open through July of 2022, and is free to the public.

Copy edited: N’dia Webb

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