Smithsonian Institution | Smithsonian Open Access

Effie Kapsalis

Senior Digital?Program Officer, The Smithsonian

Ryan King

The Smithsonian

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian 1000 Jefferson Dr SW Washington, DC 20560 United States

MUSEWEB Exhibition or Collection Extension Award 2020 for Non-Web



Smithsonian Open Access. Create. Imagine. Discover.



Just over a year ago, we launched 2.8 million 2D and 3D images and data from the Smithsonian’s 173-year-old history into the public domain. This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo. We did this to make good on the Smithsonian’s mission—“for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” We hoped that by making these collections available for easy, individual download, as well as at-scale access via our API, we would allow people everywhere to make discoveries, build new knowledge, and to develop new art and creative projects to help us see the world a little differently.


We were not disappointed. We saw individuals producing film, writing poetry, making student projects, and creating data visualizations. We saw U.S. Senators using the API to present images of their home state to their constituents, corporations like Google enhancing their Arts and Culture program, and open knowledge organizations like Creative Commons making Smithsonian images a part of their open ecosystem. It was truly inspiring and helped us see the collections we steward a little differently.




We did not plan to launch Smithsonian Open Access three weeks before a global pandemic, one that made the racial, socioeconomic, and gender inequities more acute in the U.S. As we look to the next phases of Smithsonian Open Access, it’s imperative to reflect on how open open cultural heritage really is. The challenge for us now is to make ‘open’ also equitable. #SmithsonianOpenAccess




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