Smithsonian Accepts ALS “Ice Bucket” for Philanthropy Exhibition

National Museum of American History Names Endowed Curator for Philanthropy Initiative

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will open “Giving in America” Nov. 29, a long-term exhibit that looks at the history of philanthropy’s role in shaping the United States, including a recently collected bucket representing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which went viral over social media. Nov. 29 is also #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving. The exhibition is part of a larger initiative launched in 2015 to explore philanthropy’s collaborative power and it includes a new curatorial position focused on collecting, researching, documenting and exhibiting materials.

Amanda B. Moniz has been named the museum’s David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy and she will officially begin her position in mid-December. Moniz joins the museum from the National History Center of the American Historical Association. She earned her doctorate in history from the University of Michigan. Her recent book, From Empire to Humanity; The American Revolution and the Origins of Humanitarianism offers a new perspective on the history of philanthropy and she is currently working on a scholarly biography of Isabella Graham, one of the foremost female philanthropists in the early United States.

“Philanthropy is not unique to the United States, but Americans’ ideals of participation, equality, resourcefulness and shared responsibility have shaped a distinctive form of giving in our nation,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “One of the major goals of this exhibition is to inspire future generations to continue to give of their time, talent and resources.”

The Smithsonian Philanthropy Initiative is made possible through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a gift from David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group and a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents. The funding supports programming, including the second annual “The Power of Giving: Philanthropy’s Impact on American Life” symposium as well as activities that invite the museum’s audiences to share their #AmericanGiving stories. The support also makes possible the long-term exhibition and the continuing collecting and display of artifacts related to the history of philanthropy and the endowed curatorial position.

The exhibit, “Giving in America,” showcases four major themes of American philanthropy centered on the questions of “Who Gives?” “Why Do We Give?” “What Do We Give?” and “How Do We Give?” and uses artifacts ranging from an alms box of the 1800s to a bucket used during the 2014–15 “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” which went viral on social media. This long-term exhibit will be updated annually to explore various themes; “Sustainability and the Environment” is the first topic. The topic also will be explored in-depth during the invitation-only program convening philanthropists, environmentalists, thought leaders and social innovators. 

“Giving in America” examines how charity and philanthropy have affected the course of American history and features objects ranging from the late 1700s to today. Religion has always played a large role in American giving. A silver communion dish from around 1764, gifted to Brattle Street Church in Boston, Mass., by Thomas Hancock, represents the type of gifts presented to churches by community leaders to help establish the donors as important members of the congregation. 

Within contemporary philanthropy, the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” which dared people to tip a bucket filled with ice water over themselves, is highlighted. In July 2014, to raise awareness for the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), professional golfer, Chris Kennedy, challenged his cousin, Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband suffers from ALS, to tip a bucket of ice water over her head. This was one of the first documented instances that tied the ice-bucket challenge to ALS. The challenge became a viral movement with more than 17 million participants, spreading across social media platforms and prompting financial donations toward the ALS Association. The bucket used and donated by Senerchia’s is featured in the display.

Environmental objects in the exhibit include a collection of more than a dozen awareness buttons from ecological protection foundations, including the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation and the Sacramento Tree Foundation. These buttons highlight the shift in public attitude toward the conservation of the planet, reflecting increasing awareness in the l960s and ’70s. And they reflect the increase of U.S. nonprofit organization growth dedicated to environmental protection. The case also features the boots worn by Earl Shaffer, the first person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in one continuous hike.

A rotating presentation of letters on loan from signers of the Giving Pledge are in the exhibit, and a kiosk allows visitors to view additional letters and interact with additional content. In 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates together with Warren Buffett launched the Giving Pledge initiative aimed at encouraging the world’s wealthiest individuals to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. More than 150 individuals and families have pledged, and letters from Michael R. Bloomberg, Ted Turner and former eBay President Jeff Skoll will be among those initially featured.

A companion display, “Solar on the Line,” will be opposite “Giving in America,” with a focus on the innovation and implementation of solar power as a renewable energy resource. The efforts to harness energy from the sun reflect the environmental stories highlighted in “Giving in America.”

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. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy, immigration and migration and culture. For more information, visit The museum is located on Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th streets N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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Melinda Machado             

Amelia Avalos