The historic exterior of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. 
Courtesy of Ron Blunt

By Southwester Staff

When the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building opened in 1881, it was quickly dubbed America’s “Palace of Wonders” and the “Mother of Museums.” Now celebrating its 175th anniversary, it reopens on November 20, not with a look backward, but with an eye on the future.

As the Smithsonian’s second-oldest structure, its stained glass windows, elaborate floors and painted arches were the initial home for many of the Smithsonian’s museums. The Arts and Industries Building displayed the original Star-Spangled Banner, First Ladies’ gowns, the Edison light bulb, the first telephone and more before closing to the public in 2004.

The reopening event, titled Futures, will draw on the tradition of 19th and 20th century World’s Fairs for a building-wide exploration across four thematic halls, Futures Past, Futures that Work, Futures that Inspire and Futures that Unite.  

The exhibit will feature objects, ideas and installations that fuse art, technology, design and history. The items on view will include a Virgin Hyperloop Pegasus pod, which is a working prototype for high-speed travel using climate-friendly magnetic levitation, and the Bell Nexus Air Taxi, an autonomous electric concept vehicle that evokes the long-awaited flying car. 

The event begins with Futures Remixed, a free opening festival spanning the month of November, including a public concert on opening day, Saturday, November 20. 

The exhibition will stretch from the National Mall into all eight wards of Washington, DC, with street art and soundscape portals popping up across the city. The city-wide engagement features local cultural leaders, including award-winning chef Erik Bruner-Yang, nine-year-old rap prodigy Fly Zyah, Washington-based artist Trap Bob and more, along with a “future of music” mix by deaf artist and advocate DJ SupaLee. 

The exhibition’s full slate of public events will be announced on a monthly basis starting in November. Every Friday evening, the Arts and Industries Building will host a community gathering for pop-up talks and constantly changing drop-in activities.

Futures will be on view until July 6, 2022, and open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m. (closed Tuesday), with extended weekend hours on Friday and Saturday 10:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. Admission is free, and no timed tickets are currently required.

For more information, visit futuresremixed.com and aib.si.edu.

Futures Exhibition Opening Weekend Events 

  • Live streamed world premiere tour of the exhibition with scientist and Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye on Friday, November 19.
  • Live streamed  “Unexpected Conversations” event featuring Nye, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch, actor/comedian, author and White House appointee Kal Penn, environmental advocate drag queen Pattie Gonia, 2021 National Spelling Bee champion Zaila Avant-garde, co-executive producer of the HBO Max series “Legendary” and ballroom icon Jack Mizrahi and more on Friday, November 19.
  • Free indoor/outdoor and live streamed “Call and Response Concert,” inspired by DC’s vibrant go-go music scene and featuring certified platinum indie pop trio SHAED, a special performance from the cast of the HBO Max series “Legendary,”  DJ Bright Light Bright Light, rapper and biologist Mariah the Scientist, celebrated street drummer and America’s Got Talent semi-finalist Malik Dope and more on Saturday, November 20.
  • Family Day event open to families of all types for fun activities, experiences and pop-ups on Sunday, November 21. 

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