A Major Announcement: The RIHS Is Now a Smithsonian Affiliate!


Is the Smithsonian in your neighborhood? For Rhode Islanders, the answer is a resounding yes.

In an exciting development years in the making – and thanks to the dedication of our Board of Trustees, members, supporters, partners, friends, and staff – the state will now have a conduit to the Smithsonian and its countless resources, as the Institution has designated the Rhode Island Historical Society as an Affiliate. In turn, Smithsonian patrons will gain greater access to collections and programs reflecting Rhode Island’s own history.

The new status makes the Rhode Island Historical Society one of 204 Smithsonian Affiliates nationwide, and, at present, the only such organization in the state.

RIHS’s Smithsonian Affiliation will be formally announced on Wednesday, August 19, 6:30pm, during a reception at the John Brown House Museum that will include remarks from Smithsonian Affiliations Director Harold A. Closter, Congressman Jim Langevin, Congressman David Cicilline, Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

Smithsonian Affiliations, established in 1996, is designed to facilitate a two-way relationship among Smithsonian Affiliates and the Smithsonian to increase discovery and inspire lifelong learning in communities across America. The program establishes long-term relationships with museums and education and cultural organizations to facilitate the loan of Smithsonian artifacts and traveling exhibitions, as well as develop innovative educational collaborations locally and nationally.

There are Smithsonian Affiliates in 46 states, Puerto Rico, and Panama. Affiliates represent the diversity of America’s museum community – size, location and subject – and serve all audiences. More than 8,000 Smithsonian artifacts have been displayed at Affiliate locations. These loans reflect the entire Smithsonian collection: space capsules and aircraft from the National Air and Space Museum, Abraham Lincoln’s hat and Kermit the Frog from the National Museum of American History, sculptures and paintings from the Smithsonian art museums and ethnographic and mineral collections from the National Museum of Natural History, to name a few.

Check out this video to learn more about the Smithsonian!

While the Affiliation designation is new, the RIHS has lent artifacts to the Smithsonian before, and is working on plans to do so again. Artifacts from the DeWolfs, the leading slave-trading family in U.S. history, will be lent to the National Museum of African American History and Culture for their inaugural exhibition “Slavery and Freedom.” The National Museum of American History is also considering the collections of RIHS for its exhibitions “Religion in Early America” and “Many Voices, One Nation,” and may include the loan of Roger Williams’s pocket compass-sundial.

These items will be on display at the John Brown House Museum through Aug. 22, before being taken to Washington, D.C.

“We are very honored to begin this new partnership between the Smithsonian and the Rhode Island Historical Society,” Closter said. “We have long admired the RIHS’s professionalism and commitment to preserving and presenting Rhode Island’s rich, complex, and multilayered history – a history that has so deeply shaped our sense of what it means to be an American. Rhode Island’s story has been of long interest to the Smithsonian and can be found throughout our museums – in displays and collections of nature, art, science, history, and culture – where they continue to spark the curiosity of curators, scientists, students, and visitors.”

The feeling is most certainly mutual.

“This is truly an honor, and represents a tremendous opportunity for the Rhode Island Historical Society, and Rhode Island,” said RIHS Executive Director C. Morgan Grefe. “We look forward to partnering with Smithsonian Affiliations to share Rhode Island’s stories with the nation, as well as to strengthen the RIHS’s own John Brown House Museum, Museum of Work & Culture, and Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center through ongoing collaborative educational and exhibition programs.”

Added RIHS Newell D. Goff Center for Education and Public Programs Director Elyssa Tardif:

“The RIHS’s Smithsonian Affiliation will benefit both residents of and visitors to Rhode Island, in addition to lovers of history and the humanities around the world. It also represents our continued commitment to history education for Rhode Island children and the empowerment for Rhode Island teachers through sharing with them the best educational resources available.”

RSVPs for tonight’s reception have closed due to high interest, but if you’d like to sign up for our waiting list or are a member of the media who wishes to cover the event, please contact Communications & Digital Outreach Coordinator Shawn Badgley.

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