Culture Makers Chat With Smithsonian’s Oral History Project
Why does entertainment matter to American history? “The American Scene: A National Culture Collecting Project” is a new website from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History that explores this question through interviews with some of America’s most influential entertainers and content creators. Available online at https://americanhistory.si.edu/American-scene, the site will help inform the museum’s presentation of a Hall of American Culture that will open in late 2020.
“The American Scene” includes narratives excerpted from intimate conversations with 33 culture makers conducted between October 2016 and December 2017. Each participant has provided personal photos, including childhood and family photos, career highlights and behind-the-scenes images from television and movie sets, theater, dance and concert stages and the sports field. The museum has paired each narrative with related images from its rich entertainment collections. Each narrative also explores how external forces such as politics, gender, race, economics, religion and other beliefs shape entertainment.
The project includes interviews with Frank A. Bennack Jr., executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst Communications; Kevin Bright, producer and director of the hit television series Friends; Jerry Bruckheimer of Jerry Bruckheimer Films; Del R. Bryant, former president and CEO of BMI; Homer Hans Bryant, creative director of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center; Mark Burnett, president of MGM Television and executive producer of shows such as The Voice and Survivor; Robert Daly, president of Rulemaker Inc. and former chairman of Warner Bros. Entertainment; Vin Di Bona, founder and CEO of Vin Di Bona Productions and producer of America’s Funniest Home Videos; Peter Guber, chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment and producer of films such as The Color Purple and Flashdance; Craig Kallman, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records; Douglas Kirkland of Douglas Kirkland Photography; Kay Koplovitz, founder of USA Network and Syfy (formerly Sci-Fi Channel); Sherry Lansing, former president of 20th Century Fox and former chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures; Barry Meyer, founder and chairman of North Ten Mile Associates and former chairman of Warner Bros. Entertainment; Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal; Leslie Moonves, chairman and CEO of CBS Corp.; Katie Elmore Mota and Mauricio Mota, founders, co-presidents and executive producers of Wise Entertainment; David Hyde Pierce, actor, director and comedian known for his role as psychiatrist Dr. Niles Crane on Frasier; Matt Pincus, founder and CEO of SONGS Music Publishing; Gigi Pritzker, co-founder and CEO of MWM (Madison Wells Media); Bruce M. Ramer, attorney and partner at Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown; Abbe Raven, chairman emeritus and former CEO of A+E Networks; Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp.; Philip Rosenthal, creator, writer and executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond; Daryl Roth, producer of seven Pulitzer Prize-winning plays and the Tony Award-winning musical Kinky Boots; Thomas Rutledge, CEO of Charter Communications; Carole Bayer Sager, lyricist, singer and songwriter for such artists as Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston; Jeffrey Seller, producer and CEO of Adventureland, best known for his work on Rent (1996), Avenue Q (2003) and Hamilton (2015); Anna Deavere Smith, playwright, professor and actress, widely known for her roles in The West Wing and in the Showtime series Nurse Jackie; Kevin Tsujihara, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment; Casey Wasserman, CEO of Wasserman; John Wells, chairman of John Wells Productions and a creative force behind ER and The West Wing; and Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers football team.
“These deeply moving stories provide a provocative and exciting look at how we understand arts, sports and entertainment, and will inspire visitors to think about how entertainment addresses our national values and identity,” said Shannon Thomas Perich, curator, Division of Culture and the Arts and the project’s curatorial director.
Curators will continue to collect oral histories from culture makers over the next two years. This collection of oral histories will allow curators and researchers to better understand the context and nuances of the Smithsonian’s collections as well as provide opportunities for future collecting.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. It is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
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