There's been a lot of discussion about putting all of our collections online since museum gallery space is limited and so few people will actually make the trek to Washington, DC, to see the real deals. This may indeed be the case, but we should be reminded that the Smithsonian travels outside the boundaries of the nation's capital--way outside. In fact, the Smithsonian's Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) brought SI collections, both big-ticket items and little-known gems, to nearly all 50 states last year. So, yes, we're out there in your backyard in a very real and tangible way.
Nonetheless, even the traveling exhibition service is working on doing a better job of connecting with people outside the Beltway. And in some ways, we're taking our lead from some of the museums out there that are hosting our shows, the folks who sometimes work on a shoe-string budget yet still manage to provide amazingly enriching experiences for their visitors, online and off. Take, for example, the University Museum, University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa; they hosted our satellite imagery exhibition Earth from Space last year. The university could have just followed the rules, unpacked their yellow crates, installed the exhibition, and planted a hard-bound visitor comment book at the door. But they went way beyond that, sponsoring a photo contest that centered around the major themes of the exhibition. The imagery was stunning and was truly a launching pad for discussion about sometimes unnoticed places in Iowa.
Inspiration from Iowa is now migrating to Arizona. Huh? Playing off the success of the Earth from Space photo contest, we've just launched our first public wiki in conjunction with Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography. Brand new for us and very low budget, it's really a pilot project. Hopefully, many other exhibition-related wikis will follow. We're getting there!