Allison Peck is a strategic planner and ideas lead for arts and museums, especially cultural institutions tackling big and ambitious projects that push the status quo. As director of external affairs and partnerships for the Smithsonian’s iconic Arts + Industries Building, she most recently reopened America’s storied first national museum as a space devoted to future thinking and innovation.
Over the last decade, Allison has spearheaded marketing, communications, and audience engagement for several museums, including the Smithsonian’s museums of modern art and Asian art—launching major architectural projects, digital platforms, blockbuster exhibitions, and crowdfunding campaigns. She is passionate about opening cultural spaces to all comers and blurring the boundaries between art, institutions, and the public they serve. She has an MA in arts administration from American University in D.C., and a dual BA in art history and strategic communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a frequent guest lecturer and speaker on the field
The Smithsonian’s FUTURES exhibit
The Smithsonian’s FUTURES exhibit is an interactive, technology-driven experience that allows visitors to explore the various implications of climate change and global population growth.
Part exhibition, part festival, FUTURES presents nearly 32,000 square feet of new immersive site-specific art installations, interactives, working experiments, inventions, speculative designs, and “artifacts of the future,” as well as historical objects and discoveries from 23 of the Smithsonian’s museums, major initiatives, and research centers. Of the nearly 150 objects on view, several are making their public debut: an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven rover from Alphabet’s X that could transform agriculture; a Planetary Society space sail for deep space travel; a Loon internet balloon; the first full-scale Richard Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome built in North America; the world’s first controlled thermonuclear fusion device; and more.
Through games, videos, activities, and simulations, visitors can gain insight into how humans might respond to a future in which resources such as water, energy, and food become increasingly scarce. Additionally, the exhibit encourages visitors to think critically about the societal implications of these changes and investigate possible solutions to the problems we may face. By taking a closer look at our current and future world, visitors are empowered to make more informed choices in their everyday lives. Ultimately, FUTURES aims to change the way people think about our planet’s future by helping them understand the reality of climate change and the potential consequences of our actions today. Through this interactive experience, the Smithsonian hopes to educate and inspire people to work towards a more sustainable future for all.
0:00:00.4 Michael Goodman: Hi everybody, I’m Michael Goodman with Artmatcher, the mobile app connecting art lovers, artists, galleries, art fairs, and art events. While we continue to build a great experience, we’ll be talking art with some of the industry’s most interesting and knowledgeable people. Whether you’re an art aficionado or this is all new to you, we’ll be here to provide valuable insight and hilarious good stories. Hope you enjoy our chat today and check out Artmatcher in the Apple App Store and Google Play. Welcome everyone to the Artmatcher podcast. We’re here today with Alison Peck, who is the Director of External Affairs and Partnerships at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries. Alison was recently at South by Southwest and as a Director of External Affairs and Partnerships in the Smithsonian Iconic Arts and Industry Building, she most recently reopened America’s storied first national museum as a space devoted to future thinking and innovation. She has an MA in Arts Administration from American University in DC and a dual BA in Art History and Strategic Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a frequent guest lecturer and speaker on the field. Welcome Alison.
0:01:21.7 Allison Peck: Thank you so much Scott, I’m so excited to be here.
0:01:24.8 Michael Goodman: Great, well we’ll have a chat today for the Artmatcher folks and we wanted to maybe start with the most basic of questions. How did you get interested in the arts?
0:01:37.4 Michael Goodman: Oh, that is such a good question because I think everyone has an origin story. You know, you ask anyone and you ask especially any museum worker how they got involved in museums, especially our art, and it’s sort of this fascinating, usually twisty, turny conversation. You know, for mine I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in the arts or involved in the arts in some way or you know, ballet or art classes or performance. And I actually, as you were reading in my biography, you know I did my undergrad in Strategic Communications and Art History and weirdly knew from that point on like there was exactly one thing I was going to do and it was going to be communications and external relations for art museums and larger museums. And I was talking to a couple people about this and they were saying, you know, the number one deciding factor in whether you are interested in arts or museums is if you had somebody when you were young that took you to a museum or somehow introduced you to the arts. And I think it’s just sort of like ingrained in you as something that you love and value from a very, very early age.
0:03:02.3 Michael Goodman: So how did that early interest and love of the arts manifest itself into ending up at the Smithsonian? So I did my undergrad. I actually worked after undergrad in Project Management. Very corporate, totally left turn, a really high pressure business and software development company, which was hugely helpful later. I didn’t know it at the time. And I worked there for about three years and then I said, you know what, I need to get back to what I love, I need to do this. In undergrad, I did a ton of internships in various museums and art companies. And then I went back to grad school at American. And when I was there, you know, Americans in DC and somebody that I was connected to said, you know what, there are internships at Smithsonian. And so I was able to get an internship within somebody’s communications department at the Asian Art Museum. And I just I mean, it was love at first sight. You know, I was I was obsessed. And I remember the first day at Smithsonian. I was there so late, not for wanting to impress anyone, but just because I was nerding out over everything that they actually locked the doors on me.
0:04:30.9 Allison Peck: And I tried to get out of the museum and I got trapped in the museum and I couldn’t get back to the offices and I couldn’t get out the front door. And, you know, this is my first day. Oh, my gosh, I was mortified. But it was like, oh, I found my home. You know, it really was. And they say it’s about internships and about who you know. And, you know, for that reason, I think internships are so important and making it possible for internships. But I was sold from then on. And then I started I was hired at at that particular Smithsonian Museum before I graduated even. And then I became head of the department leading communications maybe a year after that. So I think I was one of the youngest people in my job role across the Smithsonian and the rest is history.
0:05:20.1 Michael Goodman: Fantastic. And I think maybe Ben Stiller can play your your role about Night at the Museum.
0:05:27.6 Allison Peck: I have to tell you, it was a lot less exciting than that.
0:05:31.3 Michael Goodman: Nothing came alive. So when you work for such a big, powerful and iconic museum, how is that different than maybe working your way up through smaller museums or smaller institutions?
0:05:49.1 Michael Goodman: Oh, that’s a great question. You know, I think it’s in some ways it’s it’s very different. Obviously, there are a lot of similarities, though. I think there’s a there’s a gravitas that comes with Smithsonian. There are some stakes that get higher when you’re when you’re working closely with some of the artists, some of the collections, some of the stakeholders. There’s a huge sense of public trust that the Smithsonian carries with it. And that’s one of the one of, I think, the most important pieces of it. And you want to do that justice. So, you know, from my experience, you were sort of put right into the thick of some huge projects that had, you know, headline making possibility and learning as you go in that way. I think one of the ways it’s actually the same across so many different art institutions and so many different museums is there still aren’t that many resources. So you end up doing absolutely everything. And as you know, you know, from also working in startups and starting companies, you wear all of the hats and you do all of the things and you get a chance to do all of the things from writing your emails to editing copy to being outside, handing out flyers.
0:07:17.0 Allison Peck: And that is the same across every. I think museum and art world is you get a chance to do and you have to do a little bit of everything to make it work because everyone is stretched so thin. But I think that’s honestly the best. That was one of the best experiences that I think a lot of us have had in working in this field is when you are able to do everything. You learn how to do everything. You learn the value of doing everything. It really helps you understand the industry. It helps you understand museums. It helps you understand the art world because there isn’t anything that you don’t know because you’ve had to do it all. And even working in Smithsonian museums, it just happens on sort of a different scale sometimes.
0:08:02.8 Michael Goodman: Absolutely. So with your background in communications, typically art installations are set up in a way that you want the art to talk to you. How do you find the background of communications and the spoken word interacts with art and trying to figure out that balance of how to explain it versus how to let the art explain itself?
0:08:27.9 Michael Goodman: Oh, that’s such a good question. So obviously, you know, a lot of art still is primarily visual. And there’s such an importance in having good visuals and making sure that the visual representation is conveying sort of the presence, the power, the meaning. And then figuring out how to describe it. I mean, that’s it. I can’t actually. That’s not even something that I can figure out how to do that well. It’s something that curators do. It’s something that artists do. I think it is my job in terms of communicating, especially promotion, communicating, marketing is we call it getting to the why. So there’s the experience of experiencing artwork itself, standing in front of it, being of it, watching it, you know, whatever the medium is. That is almost on purpose, indescribable. That is something that you have to be or do or experience firsthand because it’s also it’s very personal. It’s a conversation between you, the artwork, the artist, the exhibition. What I love doing and what I think has been one of the most interesting things in my job over the years is helping audiences or journalists or really any external party figure out why this can matter.
0:10:04.2 Allison Peck: You know, why is what this artist is saying or why does this mean something right now? Why is this relevant to what’s happening in the world? What does this mean to the flow of art or the flow of community or contemporary culture? And giving it a sense of impact or a sense of sort of the stakes for things so that honestly, you know, people can care because if they care, then they can sort of come or they can write about and they can understand and smarter and wiser folks than me can talk about what the experience of it is. But we run through sort of very basic checklists in our heads sometimes. You know, I call it like our first best only checklist. You know, is this the first of something? Is this the best of something? Is this the only? Does this signify something? Is this representative of a shift? Is this part of something bigger so that people can connect it to what’s happening in the world or their own lived experience so they can come and experience it themselves?
0:11:12.8 Michael Goodman: When you talk about the medium and standing in front of it and absorbing it and then that being how the artist wants to convey it, how do you feel about this migration towards digital art and NFTs and having to experience things a very different way than physically standing in front of something at a museum or at a gallery or at an art event? It’s definitely changing the world very rapidly. And how in the curation and certainly a high profile museum, how do you work with changing times?
0:11:51.0 Michael Goodman: The times, they always change. Well, I mean, this is sort of the name of the game. You know, I don’t. I’m fascinated by digital art. I’m especially fascinated by video art. And we talk about it like it’s new. It’s not super new, right? And you know this too. It’s the shift to digital as a new medium has been around for, gosh, 30 years, 40 years now. And for me, it always comes down to the intent of the artist. And if an artwork is created for digital, if an artwork is created for video, if it’s created for your phone, if it’s created for Instagram, if it’s created for a computer, then that’s how you’re meant to experience it. And that’s what the artist intended. And they think about that when they create their art. And so, you know, it’s great in any format. If it’s intended to be experienced on the wall, then that’s great. If it’s intended to be experienced in performance, that’s great. I think what’s been really interesting to see, especially over just the period of the pandemic, I think is the shift between people wanting digital experiences and in-person experiences and how they value those things and how they want to experience it.
0:13:22.2 Allison Peck: And, you know, I remember 10 years ago when everyone started to, when Instagram, for example, was first taking off and social media was, you know, getting even more popular and there was a concern that if you put all of the photos of artwork online, that no one would come to see artwork because they would feel like they’ve experienced it. And as we know, that’s not true. It actually creates more interest because there’s more, you know, creative fluency out there about what art means and what it can do. And especially over the pandemic, you know, we saw there’s all these digital media being created and digital artworks and NFTs and all that incredible stuff. And did it stop people from going to museums or wanting to experience art museums? No, and it won’t because it’s just creating more creative fluency. And there’s always going to be this desire for in-person physical experiences, just as there’s going to be a space for digital artworks and digital experiences too.
0:14:35.4 Michael Goodman: So Artmatcher, when we took on our project of art education and we’re building a template to be able to increase the knowledge for people who want to advance their art education, we modeled it on the Duolingo style where you could take different curriculums, depending on where you are or what path you want to take. When you have a physical building or a physical installation and you’re speaking both to the novice and potentially the expert, how do you balance art education? How do you not make it too elementary for some and not too advanced for others?
0:15:20.4 Michael Goodman: We have this theory called, I better get my own theory right, skimmers, swimmers and divers. So within every museum experience, probably within almost every experience, I’m guessing this is fairly universal. There are always going to be folks that want to just come in, see something great, maybe learn one easy factoid, maybe take a picture of something that looks really cool, move on, grab a snack, use the restroom, chat with their friends. And that is a totally valid and wonderful experience. There’s going to be people that want to swim. They want to go a little bit deeper. They want to learn a little bit more. Maybe they’re reading a couple of labels. Maybe they want to watch a couple of videos. Maybe they want to look at everything and then, you know, self-directed. And then there’s divers, people who really want to go deep, people who really, really want to learn. Maybe they have some expertise already. Maybe they’re fascinated by it. Maybe they have no idea what they walked into, but they think it’s the coolest thing ever and they just want to go deep. And so within a lot of our experiences, we think about what is the experience for a skimmer?
0:16:43.8 Michael Goodman: What’s for a swimmer? What’s for a diver? Will they feel fulfilled no matter where they’re coming from and how they go out? And, you know, the one thing that we do always think about too is sometimes the art world can be intimidating. Sometimes museums can be intimidating. And if you come in and you’re a skimmer, we don’t want you to feel like you are having a less than experience or that you’re not as valuable a visitor because it is totally valid. And if you’re a diver, there’s enough there. There’s a ton of knowledge. So we think about things like sight lines or especially label copy or using QR codes or handouts from our reading. And you sort of structure a delivery of information or a sharing of information so that for all of those types of approaches, there’s enough there. And that’s why, you know, so many museums will have all these different learning styles. We know a lot more than we used to 20 or 30 years ago about how people like to absorb information and what they enjoy. And that’s why you see all this plethora of 15 minute tours and pop ups and QR codes and deep dive.
0:18:04.1 Allison Peck: And that’s why there are so many different options to get involved. And, you know, I think that’s that’s part of the joy of something like an art mentor type experience, too, is that if you guide people a little, but you also leave a lot of the choice up to them. They’ll end up loving the topic and coming out with, you know, whatever information they want to have. And there’s something so beautiful about the self-directed experience still that we really try to preserve within museum settings, too, especially when you’re in a physical space and you can wander. Our main goal is, you know, museums, of course, are educational in many respects, but they should be about joy and about empowerment. And that’s what we that’s how we try to think about it.
0:19:00.4 Michael Goodman: Do you think about when you’re designing either events or or exhibitions about digital, about social media? As we know, if it’s not on Instagram, it doesn’t exist. So is that in the back of your mind when you’re designing these things? Because there always does seem in the traditional art world to be a bit of a battle between the way things were done, you know, way back when versus today and a little bit of resistance sometimes with some of the new ways people interact with content. And are you starting to think about it that way?
0:19:41.3 Michael Goodman: I mean, I’ve always thought about it that way. Maybe it’s just because when I came into the industry, you know, it was sort of at the tipping point of Facebook and Instagram. And in communications, you always recognize the value of a beep. We always think about it. Not necessarily not because it’s, you know, like a pandering to the Instagram crowd, necessarily. I don’t think I would ever use really use that phrase. I think part of it is just how people experience the world now. And it’s accommodating that and understanding it and understanding it’s an important part of people’s experience. So if you have an experience and you come to see art and you want to take a picture and post about it, that’s fantastic. If you don’t also fantastic. We think about, you know, our putting up our handles and our hashtags just to make sure as a matter of course, and that’s sort of very understood. But I mean, I do remember the initial resistance. Again, this was, gosh, 10, 15 years ago from this new structure. And now I think people don’t even blink an eye. And I think it’s fantastic because it sort of goes back a little bit to what, you know, we were talking about earlier of just creative fluency or creative conversations.
0:21:12.3 Allison Peck: Because platforms like Instagram and social media and even TikTok now, they’re so creative, they’re formats for creators. That it is getting people more interested, I think, in visual mediums and art mediums. And, you know, if you come and you do a photo shoot in front of our building, that’s fantastic because you’re also creating and you’re part of this conversation. So we look at it very much as, you know, a rising tide lifts all boats. And there’s really not, you know, a downside to having conversations on these social platforms anymore and encouraging conversations on these social platforms.
0:22:05.0 Michael Goodman: So if you were talking to somebody in your position 30 years from now or an executive director of a museum 30 years from now, where would you envision the balance is going to be between digital and the metaverse and the physical? Where do you think the trend is going to?
0:22:25.1 Michael Goodman: Oh, gosh, this is going to be great to listen to probably in just six months. Things are going to change so quickly. You know, I think we’re going to see a lot more creation for digital platforms continuing. I don’t think that’s going to go away. I think we probably only just started to really scratch the surface of what’s possible with creation for digital medium because it is new media. It’s just like painting was a new art form. This is now going to be an entirely new art form that will have graduate school courses. And, you know, our kids are going to go and learn about the first digital age of art or something like that. You know, there’ll be conversations. They’ll probably be an entire textbook on memes or something, you know, like, let’s be real. And it will just enter the cultural lexicon. I think it will be really interesting to see how collections evolve. I think that’s going to be especially fascinating. What ownership means, obviously, now that digital is coming out, we’re seeing this debate and fight and sort of the market tussle over our ownership happening in real time, which is fascinating.
0:23:48.1 Allison Peck: Same with museum collecting, you know, what ends up entering museum collections and how that will enter museum collections and what’s considered, quote unquote, worthy of going in a museum collection will be fascinating. But, you know, if anything has if the trend of the past 30 years and even the past 50 years follows. Art will continue to be more important or just as important, you know, will gathering for art and talking about art and going to museums will still be just as important as it always has been. Even if the art itself may look different, our collections will expand or the conversation will continue.
0:24:38.1 Michael Goodman: Along those lines, when you’re educating somebody or you’re communicating to them about how to get educated in art, do you think it’s a blank piece of paper now or do you think, you know, traditional art education is always going to be the same? You’re always starting at the same point and moving forward. Or do you think maybe the current trends are just another chapter or is it really redefining art education right now?
0:25:11.3 Michael Goodman: I see it a little bit of waves. You know, I don’t know our history of artists so long and the history of culture so long. I don’t know if anything is ever truly, truly, truly redefined. Obviously digital transforms almost everything. But I think there’s less gatekeepers now, which is fantastic. I think, you know, there’s less of a sense of you have to know a certain amount in order to appreciate art, which I actually think is fantastic. I think it creates so many more entry points. I think younger generations especially see themselves as creators and they see themselves as artists and they see themselves as having the sense of expression and self and artwork. And you’ll see hopefully a blending of media, you know, sneakers as artwork, fashion as artwork, self-presentation as artwork, music videos as artwork. It’s the sort of broadening and blending of all these different cultures and cultural expressions that lead back to artwork. But then you and then that sort of expands outward and backwards. So, you know, rather than having to know about the Louvre first, you can be introduced to Beyonce’s seminal music video placed in the Louvre and then you go back and sort of learn about the Louvre and you get fascinated by the visual history and the legacy of all of that.
0:26:52.3 Allison Peck: So it’s a little bit of this, you know, the entry points might be changing and working backwards. I don’t know if it’s like a fundamental transformation, but I do think it’s this sort of wave that sort of comes and goes based on sort of where we are in a culture. That’s actually probably going to be in the grad school class, you know, the year Beyonce did the music video in the Louvre and, you know, what that meant to everyone.
0:27:21.9 Michael Goodman: So when we were doing our initial research for Art Matcher and building our business model, we very clearly saw and I think the UBS reports very clearly see new entry, new users, new buyers into the physical art market are not coming in at the same pace. The demographic is skewing older and you could certainly make the leap that NFTs and digital art are speaking more to the younger generation and new buyers aren’t getting converted at the same pace as old buyers. Do museums concern themselves with that? Do you see the same dynamic in more the institution side of the business about people in a younger demographic still consuming museum art the same way? We’re kind of seeing maybe the demand destruction coming in to the art sales world.
0:28:26.1 Michael Goodman: You know, I can speak to it from, I work a lot in the worlds of contemporary art especially and part of my job is to grow audiences to be younger and more diverse. Again, maybe five, ten years ago, there’s all the concern about, they called it the greying of arts audiences where this older generation that had the money, that had the philanthropy, that was buying, was sort of, I guess literally and probably figuratively dying off where they were not becoming involved anymore and so there was this whole concern about, oh, we must make our audiences younger and more diverse. I like to think that is actually a great thing and I see that a lot because it is my job to do that. It is my job to make sure that what we’re doing is appealing and understood by younger demographics and more diverse demographics. And we see it as a great thing. I’m super curious. I know this is a podcast where you ask me questions but I actually want to ask you a lot of questions about what you see in the art market side of things as well because from our side, younger and diverse audiences are fantastic because it means they can be involved for longer and be involved in more ways and we’re just more relevant to more people than museums were 20 years ago especially.
0:30:22.2 Allison Peck: And if people don’t have the same sort of income as they do when they’re younger or maybe just coming into art appreciation, it’s actually totally fine because they grow into it or they learn more or they spend a longer time understanding art world and it’s playing the long game especially with those audiences.
0:30:44.2 Michael Goodman: Yeah, I think what we saw in our research is it’s maybe so many variables it’s hard to pick out exactly which ones the driving force. Certainly we had a pandemic. There was a move towards digital platforms and buying art a certain way. Did that come at the expense of physical Main Street galleries? You could make that argument that the total pie has stayed the same while digital sales has certainly taken a bigger piece of the pie. But how much the pandemic and the lack of access to physical spaces cannibalized, you know, took the oxygen out of the room for a couple years. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out but anecdotally what we were hearing quite a bit was new, younger, tech driven people who had money to spend on art just simply didn’t understand it or felt intimidated by it. Maybe the early stage education wasn’t there. And they didn’t feel comfortable going in and making, you know, relatively big purchases. And one can conclude that NFTs do speak to them. And that is in their vocabulary and they feel more comfortable spending money in that place than maybe the other place. So in that light, where do we start?
0:32:12.2 Allison Peck: How does that change? How do people get comfortable that this new generation is interested in physical art as much as digital art? That’s so interesting. And I think part of it too is we think a lot about the why for audiences too. Why come to a museum? Why appreciate art? Why look at art? What is their motivation and what do they want out of it? Is it something they want to share? Is it something they want to talk about? And I also wonder if there’s sort of a new sense of a conversation happening, especially around NFTs that is just feeling a lot more exciting or, you know, more of the now than some of the more traditional art media. But I’m super excited. I’m buckled in. I’m ready for this roller coaster. I’m just excited to see what happens over the next sort of three to five years when all of this evolves even more.
0:33:19.9 Michael Goodman: That’s a perfect transition to start talking about partnerships. And why does a museum feel partnerships are so important to the future? I think, you know, there’s so much, especially now in the creative fields, that is highly, highly interconnected.
0:33:47.5 Michael Goodman: And we see it across almost every industry. You see it in museums, you see it in creators, you see it in tech, you see it in brands, you see it in corporate, you see it in sort of you name it, that there are lines that are blurring between just artists and products and companies. And there’s no sort of one thing or another black and white anymore. And for us, especially at the Arts and Industries Building with Smithsonian and this major futures exhibition that we put on, we rely a lot on partners on the outset, foundationally. Because there are certain topics that you can’t tackle without partners. Usually because it’s, take a topic like the future, it’s impossible to be an expert on it. And it’s impossible to talk about it and understand what’s happening in the world without partners who are doing that work, who are at the forefront of things, who are exploring, who are inventing. And it’s the same with a lot of different spaces now, especially with tech world, that a lot of what’s happening is elsewhere or being driven elsewhere or being outside. And to move fast enough, you have to be able to work with folks that are moving quickly and experimenting and trying and structuring it.
0:35:27.6 Michael Goodman: So I think there’s a hopefully a thoughtful deconstructing of a wall between museums, especially in the outside world. I think I would call it a thoughtful porosity, if that’s even a word, to really take a lot of partner work and create it and put it in museums or put it out into the world, conversely, because you have to have that conversation. So I would say within futures, maybe a third of our content came from Smithsonian collections. A third was artwork, new commissions, conversations you’re having with artists and other partners, and a third probably inventions and innovations from outside sources like nonprofits and think tanks and companies and labs and universities. And a lot of that was project or conversation or collaboration based that took years. And hopefully that’s that it was a very new project for this type of for this type of exhibition, because normally when you put an exhibition together, if let’s say this was a painting exhibition, we would go out and we would just find the paintings and pull them together versus creating these projects over time. But I hope it creates a deeper experience for our visitors, because it really reflects learning and conversations and concepts in real time that are involved or being invented, or, or that come from outside that they might encounter in their outside world.
0:37:24.6 Allison Peck: We couldn’t do that without partnerships.
0:37:27.5 Michael Goodman: So when you talk about partnerships, and compare it to the, maybe the current way and museums have levels of checks and balances and committees and curation and a very defined way in which an idea turns into an exhibit. If you think about platforms like meta and Google, could you ever consider them museums. You know they have a tremendous amount of artwork but not necessarily the vetting process that gets you from point A to point Z. Are those type of platforms ever going to be able to not rival museums but certainly be landing spots for people to experience art in a different way. I would never say never, I think, but I think part of what makes a museum, a museum, and the public trust put into it, especially at Smithsonian I can’t speak for all museums but there are certain sort of levels of professional standards that you must follow in order to meet certain accreditations. There’s a really a sense of importance placed on on all those checks and balances from the curator to leadership to boards to education teams who who go through all of this, and foremost, is public trust and civic good.
0:39:08.2 Michael Goodman: And we take that part of our job very very very seriously. I don’t know if that type of sort of structure or conversation, I don’t know if, you know, a more freeform or free flowing platform or space would have that same sort of level of gravitas, I guess, for, you know, record. But that experiences elsewhere aren’t totally valid and really interesting and really compelling and really exciting. It’s sort of the difference between, you know, like a, like an art hall that puts up a pop up show of emerging artists like it’s so really cool and really interesting and super valid. And there’s, there’s sort of that special like structure that museums can put in things and, you know, even working with all of our partners within Smithsonian we still maintain a very, very structured vetting and review process. And that’s what’s been really exciting to see and what we’ve done what we’ve wanted to make sure of and what I think a lot of museums are thinking about now is making sure that you are mindful of who has a seat at that table, in terms of vetting and understanding and proposing ideas and looking at ideas and artists and are the folks that are making decisions or keeping an eye on things or proposing things or pushing boundaries.
0:40:54.8 Allison Peck: You know, are they representative of the audience at large and, and who’s missing too, so that you can continue to have really diverse really interesting really substantive conversations. And I really hope to see, you know, the, the balance of who gets to make decisions that museums continue to broaden and continue to give voice to those who may not always have had a voice but it’s always still of course very important to have people who, who know what they’re doing to help sort of guide that process.
0:41:33.6 Michael Goodman: Do you believe that the metaverse will continue to adhere to those lines that that a digital experience being going through a museum will continue to have that same structure, and being able to represent the public good or do you think those walls start to get a little blurrier with more access.
0:41:57.9 Michael Goodman: I mean I think the walls will will get blurrier no matter what with access I think it’s, um, again it’s not necessarily a bad thing I think it depends on, you know what, if a museum was creating a museum metaverse I think that’s a very specific thing. The metaverse, of course, is both everything and nothing right now, right, it’s, we’re at that phase where the metaverse is a phrase that has been used for. I don’t even know how many years and so many different formats and it’s, it’s sort of this fascinating post pre development of VR and AR and XR and interactive worlds that people can come together. And it’s still a lowercase M metaverse you know no one owns the metaverse no one creates on the metaverse it’s, it’s this space where everyone can create. And in that way, it reminds me of the early days of the internet, right like sort of started at this interesting platform and then it eventually becomes a free for all and then like structures go in place so I think it just, it’s like a, it’s like another level, you know it depends on who is regulating it who’s structuring it.
0:43:20.5 Allison Peck: And I imagine a Smithsonian in the metaverse will be just as valuable as the Smithsonian in the real world, it will just be for that metaverse platform and same with all other platforms that we can translate over. And then everything else our creation content experiences can still be just as fun and exciting as everything else is.
0:43:44.8 Michael Goodman: Well, while we’re still in the physical world let’s talk about the physical world so the futures exhibit tell us a little bit about what that is all about.
0:43:54.9 Michael Goodman: The Smithsonian’s is a massive ambitious part exhibition part festival, and all about many possible futures on the horizon, and it’s housed within the Smithsonian’s arts and industries building which is my, my current building our team’s building. And this building has this fascinating history where it opened in 1881. And at that time it was America’s first US National Museum. It’s the second oldest Smithsonian building. It’s right on the National Mall. And it, it opened into this time of sort of wonder and exploration and into World’s Fairs it has this, this, this really close tie to World’s Fairs it looks like a World’s Fair, a giant World’s Fair pavilion, it was built with the proceeds from the first great American World’s Fair, and then some like 60 train cars worth of, of wonders of the world from the first great American World’s Fair got trucked to DC to form one of the core of its collection. So it’s always been sort of overflowing with these incredible ideas and inventions and artworks that made people think about what’s next. So it had this very storied history it’s, it is architecturally unique in the world it’s beautiful it’s one of the most beautiful buildings.
0:45:31.4 Michael Goodman: And it’s actually been closed to the public for almost 20 years. And when we formed the team to look at doing the show and to reopen this building. There was a thought about you know what what could this idea of a World’s Fair what could it be today. And can we approach a concept like the future which our director is fond of saying, you know, it’s impossible to do a show about the future it’s like doing a show about the present or doing a show about the past it, it, it hasn’t happened yet and and no one can be an expert on it. So, we, we embarked on this journey knowing that so much of it was going to be an exploration of even how to create an exhibition or how to tackle a topic. And we opened in November. It’s 36,000 square feet. I think it’s it’s sort of a giant open space because the building is a giant open space it’s four equal halls and a beautiful cathedral like rotunda. And we’ll actually close in July which is coming up very very quickly, but the response has been extraordinary. Even during the pandemic you know we regularly have I think 10 to 20,000 people through the building every weekend.
0:47:06.1 Michael Goodman: And we were. It’s this fascinating mix of. I mentioned this earlier but it’s it’s history and unexpected stories and artworks and inventions and technology. And it’s grouped by not by topic, but by values, essentially, so we initially had this idea, going into the show you know what about how would we talk about the future of the office or future of school or future of your kitchen. But we really really quickly realized that that’s sort of a nonsensical division that that’s not how things roll out things are messy and accidental and intersectional and you can’t just talk about a future of kitchen without talking about families and communities and consumption and conservation and food futures and nutrition and agriculture and it sort of got got it gets really crazy really quickly. So it’s divided right now into past futures, which is a look at different stories about how we got to where we are today how people in the past, used to look at the future and imagine the future and some of those driving forces and unexpected stories. A hall called futures that work about efficiency and sustainability and doing more with less a hollow called futures that unite, which is about how ways we can rely more on each other or do more together.
0:48:48.3 Michael Goodman: And a hall called futures that inspire which is about dreaming big and thinking of viciously and creative and sci fi and how that can drive us into the future. And that it’s a, it’s an interesting curatorial mix of embedding all of these different prototypes and artworks and concepts together in a way that makes sense and they have conversations with each other and, and you can get a sense of not just what a future could look like but what many possible futures could look like what some of the decisions we might make and how they might be impacted. And almost most importantly get a sense of hope and empowerment about the future through understanding how you can make an impact or practicing making an impact or getting a sense of making decisions and how decisions are made. So it’s been a ton of fun. And it’s been a wild wild ride that’s for sure. It’s been incredible. So when you’re putting together an exhibit about the future during a pandemic, you’re talking about a generational shift in the way people think about the world but also physically walking through a building. There is a very real aspect to the pandemic as well.
0:50:21.2 Michael Goodman: How did you handle all that trying to put this all together.
0:50:25.8 Michael Goodman: You know we, we had a moment. You know, maybe the whole show, it’s normal Smithsonian exhibition timelines for something of this scope and scale would be five to seven years. And what we did, we were able to come together and probably about two and a half or three from start to finish so it was an extraordinary timeline and we did that on purpose you know we were on purpose, pushing different formats, but we had a moment about halfway through where we had to really evaluate a pro everything from approach to physicality to structure, because the world is was so fundamentally different and is so fundamentally different. And we, we sat down as a team and we said, you know, everything’s on the table what, how are we going to do this what is our approach going to be because, you know, there, there is no futures without the people coming to this and we want to make sure that this is relevant and important and still speaks to them. And for us it’s a one, it was, it was always and still is a wonderful thing to do an inherently optimistic exhibition about the future, especially during a very dark time but also you have to have sort of a sensibility of the people that are coming to visit it.
0:51:57.8 Allison Peck: And what we found in doing this exercise was that the show that we had created up to that point was actually incredibly resilient. And we, we only had to make some, we made some some adjustments but, you know, the show was always hopeful but not naive. It. So it acknowledged that there, you know, the future is not always easy that times are not always easy that things have to go through. We had designed it because it’s a gigantic open space essentially, it was already sort of pre COVID proofed, practically. So it didn’t have close spaces or close walls and it was actually already primarily touchless, because we’ve been building it a lot of technology that was haptic technology. And one of the biggest things we did is we invited more artists commissions to help think about what it meant to live through 2020 2021 and into 2022. So, thank goodness. Thank goodness we did we sat through we worked through it and we actually found the concept stood up really really well.
0:53:24.0 Michael Goodman: So you and I both attended, South by Southwest and Austin this year and that was the first time in a couple years that they got together and we’ve seen this kind of desire to return to the physical. How quickly did you see that in the, in the museum and the exhibits. Is the rush back been a slow drip or kind of all at once.
0:53:52.2 Allison Peck: No, it’s been, I mean, it is, it’s been very busy from the beginning for us I think museums have seen, you know, a couple different trends there’s the early returners, people who just couldn’t wait to get to get back to it. And then as you know vaccinations have come back and as covered protocols are much more accepted. We’re, we’re, we’re back in business, and we saw. It’s a very. We’re very seasonal, you know, we have a lot of tourists in Washington DC, and it was so wonderful to see everyone back. It’s, it’s not a pre pandemic levels but it’s really really close I want to say it’s at 80% of pre pandemic levels. And in tourism, and we have to we we closed for a couple additional days. You know, every week across Missoni and in our building we’re closed for a couple additional days, and the days that we were open it’s it’s been phenomenal. It really has and I think a lot of museums are experiencing that same enthusiasm for return.
0:55:08.1 Allison Peck: We’ve been super generous with your time today and I’m going to save the easiest question for last. So, doing a futures exhibit, what do you see as the future of art. Where is it going. Hello, that’s definitely yeah super easy. Thanks, Scott. I see the future of art, as I hope I’ll say I’ll say this from a sense of what I hope the future of art can become is. Increasingly the trends of public art everywhere. Digital Art Everywhere conversations about art everywhere, I think this reduction in gatekeeping and the increase of creative platforms for creation consuming understanding conversations. And I hope that all of the collective enthusiasm around art and all of its forms continues also.
0:56:30.5 Michael Goodman: Fantastic. I want to thank Allison Peck from the Smithsonian Art and Industries for joining us today on the art matcher podcast. And we’ll see you all next week. Thank you. Thank you so much for tuning into the art matcher podcast. We had an interesting discussion, a great time, and we hope you did too. Please tune in for next week’s episode and like share and follow. For more information about the app. You can check out our website at artmatcher.com or look us up on social. Stay safe and be artful.