Smithsonian offers summer of virtual activities during coronavirus

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Smithsonian Associates Streaming

The Smithsonian museums have been physically closed due to the coronavirus.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience plenty of fun events this summer.

Smithsonian Associates is launching 91 virtual programs from July through September, including book talks, guided tours and wine tastings for your social-distanced delight.

“We decided that in this new world, we want to keep the Smithsonian open, so all of our programs are available online,” director Frederica Adelman told WTOP.

The journey began back in March, when the various museums were forced to close.

“Museums closed, we walked out of our offices, turned off the lights and immediately started postponing, canceling and rescheduling everything,” Adelman said. “Pretty soon after that, we realized that this was going to go on longer than we anticipated and that coming back meant that we’d have to look at our buildings in a whole new way.”

So, she and her team came up with the idea of Smithsonian Associates Streaming.

“We have so much to offer and we have so many people who rely on us for all kinds of learning,” Adelman said. “We thought, ‘With this brand new way of looking at the world and everybody becoming much more comfortable online, let’s just jump right in.'”

The lineup includes “backyard forest bathing” with naturalist Melanie Choukas-Bradley.

“She leads you through a walk through a virtual area, she paints an imaginary picture of a forest, she talks about the trees and what you might hear or smell,” Adelman said. “You plug in your headphones, you get comfortable, you can be outside, you can even be inside. She intersperses a little bit of nature lore, some poetry, some meditation.”

After you’ve cleared your mind, cleanse your palette with a unique wine tasting.

“We’ve partnered with Maxwell Park in the Navy Yard,” Adelman said. “You can pick up a curated personal tasting kit. There will be scheduled contactless pickup times. Then Erik Segelbaum will walk you through the various wines. We’re looking at Bordeaux, then central and southern Italy, wines from the Burgundy area and in northern Italy.”

You can pair that with cheese from the women-owned Cheesemonster Studio in D.C.

“We’ll post a shopping list [and] you get to go buy your cheeses, then you’ll be guided on a tasting once you’re at home,” Adelman said. “It will be delicious. … There’s a lot more to cheese than most ordinary mortals understand. … There’s chemistry, there’s science, there’s history, there’s geography, a little bit of art. Cheese is everywhere.”

After that, work off those calories with a virtual guided tour of the Shaw neighborhood.

“Our staff went out socially distanced with masks and did some filming,” Adelman said. “Tour leader, D.C. historian Garrett Peck [will be] narrating the video clips, showing historic images and talking about Shaw starting in the 1920s. … He’s also going to focus on the African American artists, the performers, the poets. Shaw is jazz central.”

Similarly, Bakari Sellers gives a book talk on his latest work “My Vanishing Country.”

“He is one of the youngest state representatives in South Carolina,” Adelman said. “He’s going to look at what it means to be Black in rural America, getting access to health care, working as factories shut down, understanding the traditions in Black rural America and how to forge a hopeful path forward. We’re really excited to have him.”

You can also participate in a discussion of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

“Everyone’s talking about that, isn’t it great?” Adelman said. “We’re looking at how ‘Hamilton’ remixes history and showbiz, so we’re bringing in Richard Bell, a historian at the University of Maryland. He’s going to look at the history that the performance has drawn from. … Why is it important to know what the musical is about?”

If you’re a creative person yourself, check out the virtual studio art classes.

“There’s an accessibility opportunity for streaming,” Adelman said. “One of our studio art students signed up for the first time because she has a sensitivity to some of the materials we use, so she couldn’t be in a class with other people, but she can follow along at home and she is beyond thrilled to be able to finally take a studio arts class.”

Last but not least, check out the annual summer camp Smithsonian Adventures, which has been held for 50 years with some campers that are now the children of former campers. Rather than go into the various museums, this time it’s being held online.

“We introduce the campers to all different parts of the Smithsonian by taking them on exciting adventures,” Adelman said. “We do an adventure exploring the Arctic, for instance. … So rather than visiting the museums this summer, we’re showing them images and engaging them in some of the same craft projects.”

The initiative has seen such positive feedback — people signing up from Maine to California — that the virtual programs will continue even after the pandemic ends.

“We will be offering Smithsonian Associates Streaming forever,” Adelman said. “We’re in this world now. As the museums reopen, we expect to be back in the museums, but we’re going to pair our in-person, on-site experiences with our online experiences. … When it’s time to welcome people back in, we’ll be there with open arms.”

See the full list of virtual summer programs here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Fredie Adelman (Full Interview)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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