Shining new light on American history

I’ve been working on a project for the museum’s reopening that is so big and so unprecedented that it defies written description. In the last couple of weeks we have attempted to describe this project as a light show, a light mural, an outdoor architectural illumination, and the world’s largest HD slide show. I think you start to get the picture, but in the end it is almost impossible to describe something that really has to be seen to be appreciated.

Luckily, for two more nights this week you can see for yourself how we have transformed the Mall-side façade of our building into an enormous, 25,000 square foot projection exhibition called NightGallery DC: Illuminating American History.

NightGallery DC is a collaborative effort between the National Museum of American History and Herring Media Group Inc., an international communications, design and production agency. Herring Media Group specializes in “heroic media,” large-scale illuminated projections that transform buildings and landscapes into “immersive theaters of light and image.” It turns out this is a perfect way to highlight treasures from our heroic collection. For this projection exhibition celebrating our reopening, we have chosen 168 objects that represent a wide range of subjects—and have literally shed new light on them. A few of my favorite objects include the Star-Spangled Banner, a gown worn by Mary Todd Lincoln, and a mouse trap from the 1800s called “The Delusion.” They are wonderful objects that have been beautifully captured by the Smithsonian photography staff.

I’ve been looking at these images for weeks as we have been preparing this show, but when I saw them projected 25 feet tall onto the side of a building, they took my breath away! The objects take on a whole new life when seen on this scale. This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss and is well worth braving the cold to see. NightGallery DC begins at dusk and runs Friday and Saturday night until 10 p.m. 

See a sneak peek of the show in the video below from the Smithsonian Videos YouTube channel.

Elisabeth Johnson is special assistant for public programs at the National Museum of American History.