The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and Los Angeles-based Ideas Exchange Zócalo Public Square are partnering to launch “What It Means to Be American,” a collaborative three-year initiative aimed at engaging leading thinkers, public figures and Americans from all walks of life to explore how the United States became the nation it is today. The kick-off event Jan. 14 will feature former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, at the Heard Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Phoenix. Music icon Eddie Van Halen will headline the next event at the National Museum of American History in February.
The initiative will foster a national conversation through a series of free public events across the U.S. The first event, “The Women of the West,” features native Arizonans—O’Connor and Chávez—discussing what it means to be a Western woman and what particular opportunities the region has offered women. A Q&A session will follow the moderated discussion, allowing audience members to further engage with one another and the speakers to continue the conversation.
Central to this project is a new website whatitmeanstobeamerican.org, featuring original articles by a mix of Smithsonian curators, scholars and Americans from different backgrounds, perspectives and places. The website will also feature an interactive component, asking questions such as, “Where would you take George Washington to help him understand America today?” Readers will be prompted to submit written responses and upload photos. The site will also host event-related content, publishing photographs as well as video and audio recordings of each program, and will engage audiences through social media channels.