Art and Culture

(left) American Ballet Theatre Project Plié dancers Morocco Britt-El, Azrielle Smith, and Kelly Hicks perform at the 2018 Power of Giving symposium.
Courtesy of NMAH.
(right) Vase made by the Saturday Evening Girls, around 1908–1915
Gift of Chas. Frank Sugeren

The arts are "a space where we can give dignity to others while interrogating our own circumstances." Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation

Did You Know?
Starting in the 1800s, many Americans learned artistic skills, both to pursue economic opportunities and contribute to shaping the country’s culture. Philanthropists created design schools to help expand access to arts education. The Art in Industry exhibition tells this story.

James Smithson, by Henri-Joseph Johns, 1816.
James Smithson, by Henri-Joseph Johns, 1816
Gouache on ivory
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from NMAH
Conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee

British scientist James Smithson left a bequest to the United States to found what has become the Smithsonian Institution. The National Museum of American History’s resources provide a window onto the history of philanthropy for the Smithsonian—including gifts of objects—along with telling other stories about cultural philanthropy. These resources also examine how Americans have used arts to promote social change.    

American Ballet Theatre Project Plié dancers Morocco Britt-El, Azrielle Smith, and Kelly Hicks perform at the 2018 Power of Giving symposium & Vase made by the Saturday Evening Girls, around 1908–1915

The Washington Monument: A view from the museum

Pink marble fragment

How Evelyn Lauder took on breast cancer at the cosmetics counter

A heart shaped content

Why do we have a National Lace Collection?

Lace with U.S. seal

5 objects that James Smithson might be surprised to find in the institution he founded – until he learned their philanthropy stories

A white background with a black electric guitar.

Donor traces his family's roots, supports museum research

Scan of citizenship document

The Hagan internship honors a history lover's legacy with a focus on women's history

Bette and Jim Hagan, 1980

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