6 ideas for achieving your New Year’s resolutions

By Dana Allen-Greil

2008 was a banner year for the museum. Literally. The creation of a new permanent home for the Star-Spangled Banner—the flag that inspired the national anthem—was central to the dramatic renovations that were unveiled at our grand reopening on November 21. We also debuted new architecture in the central atrium, introduced a new gallery for featuring historical documents, and brought back old favorites like the ruby slippers, Jefferson’s desk, and the 1401 steam locomotive.

Now that we’re open, some folks have noticed that not everything in the building is completely finished. That’s true. From the beginning, the museum pledged to close for only as long as absolutely necessary to accommodate construction work. And so, although we’ve accomplished a lot already, we have a lot to do in 2009 and our floor plan still has some blank spots. Stay tuned to the blog and the e-newsletter to get news about new exhibitions and public programs going live all year long.

You might have created your own list of of goals or resolutions for the new year. If you did, I’m guessing one or two of the items below made it to your list. I’ve put together a few ideas on how to use the museum—and many of its new offerings in 2009—as a resource for checking off some of those goals.

Julia1. Get Fit and Eat Right. Did you know the museum offers over 300,000 square feet of exhibition,programming, and public space? If you’re looking to take those recommended 10,000 daily steps, we’re open every day from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and we’re warm inside when it’s cold outside! Looking for something a little more ambitious? Follow in the steps of Earl Shaffer, the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety—more than 2,000 miles—in one continuous hike. (And he repeated the feat twice more!) An exhibition of his photographs, diaries, and letters will go on display in the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery in July (through October). Looking to eat better by making your own food? Then you won’t want to miss a peek inside the kitchen of Julia Child, who showed the world that cooking was fun and something that anyone can do in their own home. The Web version of the exhibition includes audio and video clips of Julia sharing her kitchen wisdom.

Ssb2. Take a Trip. In February we’ll launch a national anthem singing contest on YouTube. The winner will receive a trip to Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to perform the national anthem at the museum on Flag Day (Sunday, June 14, 2009). Ready to start practicing? Maybe you’re planning to head to the beach, lake, or river for your summer vacation? First, take some time to learn about how American maritime history has shaped major cities, created connections between people and places, and opened the continent. On the Water: Stories from Maritime America, which opens in May, will exhibit everything from 18th-century sailing ships, 19th-century steamboats and fishing craft to today’s mega container ships (and, of course, we’ll have an online version too for those of you who can’t make it in person).

Coins 3. Save Money. This one is almost too easy. Admission is always free at our museum and all of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. Not local to the D.C. area? Why not take a virtual trip? We have over 50 online exhibitions available to anyone with access to an internet connection and they’re filled with photographs, interactive activities, and multimedia to make your “trip” to the museum a multi-sensory one. If your goal isn’t just to save money, but to learn more about it, be sure to check out our new exhibition Stories on Money (opening this summer) which will explore changes in American money from colonial days to the present.

Spark 4. Spend More Time with Family and Friends. Got kids in tow? A new guide to visiting with kids under five will be available in February (or you can check out hands-on activities in Spark!Lab and Invention at Play now). Looking for something to do during your lunch hour? Get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how staff collects, preserves, researches, interprets, and presents our nation’s history (Thursdays at noon). We’re rolling out more new experiences throughout the year. Beginning this spring you can use a Civil War-era printing press to make your own print to take home. Expect everything from concerts to flag-folding this summer. Subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter for the latest info on events and programs.

Lincoln 5. Learn Something New. Think you know everything there is to know about President Lincoln? Check out some of the 60 plus historical treasures on view in the exhibition, Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life. Each highlighted object—from an iron wedge he used to split wood in the early 1830s to the iconic top hat he wore the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre—will be augmented with personal stories told by Lincoln and the people who knew him best. Think you’re a world-class photographer in the making? The Scurlock studio in Washington, D.C. is recognized as among the very best of 20th-century photographers who recorded the rapid changes in African American urban communities nationwide. See what all the fuss is about when The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise opens Jan. 30 featuring more than 100 images created by one of the longest-running black businesses in Washington.

Volunteer 6. Volunteer and Give More. Do you love to tell—and listen to—a good story? Is meeting people your idea of a good time? If so, then consider becoming a volunteer docent! The museum is accepting applications for a spring class of docents to interpret the collection and exhibitions for visitors, including opportunities in Spark!Lab, Invention at Play, and interactive carts. With nearly the same number of volunteers as staff, the Smithsonian relies on people like you to carry out its work for the benefit of the public. Can’t give your time but still want to provide support? You can make a donation to the museum online in just a few simple steps. Make your gift in honor of a loved one or help sustain our operations by becoming a monthly supporter.

That’s a pretty good good start, right? I bet you’ve got your own ideas, though, and I’d love to hear them. Use the comment form below to share them with your fellow blog readers. And happy new year! (When do we stop saying that, by the way? March?)

Dana Allen-Greil is the new media project manager at the National Museum of American History.