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Smithsonian Highlights Innovative Communities across America

“Places of Invention” Presents a New Model for Collaborative Creation of Exhibit Content
April 24, 2014

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation announces six new grants, doubling participation in its groundbreaking collaborative exhibition project, “Places of Invention,” set to open at the National Museum of American History in 2015. Following a national call for contributors to its Affiliates Project, six Smithsonian Affiliate teams—led by the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass.; Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers, Ind.; the National WWII Museum in New Orleans; ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum in Ashland, Ore.; Telluride Historical Museum in Telluride, Colo.; and Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland—have received $10,000 to research and document innovation in their communities.

With Lemelson Center guidance, Affiliate organizations and their community partners will use different documentation techniques—oral histories, site visits, collections research and community events—to create videos highlighting the unique combinations of inspiring surroundings, creative people and ready resources that sparked local innovation. These short videos will become an integral part of the “Places of Invention” interactive map, accessible in-person at the museum and online anywhere in the world. Related public programming will take place at each Affiliate location as part of the museum’s “Taking It to the Nation” initiative, which strives to bring the museum of the hometown and doorstep of every American.

 “When discussing innovation, place matters,” said Art Molella, director of the Lemelson Center. “While the lone inventor maintains its romantic status in the minds of most, more than 15 years of research by the Lemelson Center has demonstrated the value and necessity of community. The addition of the stories behind the innovative communities these six new museums represent will help us create an even more robust portrayal of American ingenuity within ‘Places of Invention.’”

The new Affiliate Project participants join the six members of the project’s pilot phase—American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass.; Museum of History and Industry in Seattle; Peoria Riverfront Museum in Peoria, Ill.; Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh; U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.; and The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art, and Technology in Newark, Ohio.

“Places of Invention” will take visitors on a journey through time and place to discover the stories of people who lived, worked, played, collaborated, adapted, took risks, solved problems and sometimes failed—all in the pursuit of something new. The exhibition features six communities representing what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources and inspiring surroundings come together—precision manufacturing in Hartford, Conn., late 1800s; Technicolor in Hollywood, Calif., 1930s; medical innovations in Medical Alley, Minn., 1950s; the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970s; the rise of the personal computer in Silicon Valley, Calif., 1970s–1980s; and clean-energy innovations in Fort Collins, Colo., 2010s. “Places of Invention” is under development thanks in part to a grant from the National Science Foundation and will open July 4, 2015.

Established in 1996, Smithsonian Affiliations is a national outreach program that develops long-term collaborative partnerships with museums, educational and cultural organizations to enrich communities with Smithsonian resources. The long-term goal of Smithsonian Affiliations is to facilitate a two-way relationship among Affiliate organizations and the Smithsonian Institution to increase discovery and inspire lifelong learning in communities across America. More information about the Smithsonian Affiliations program and Affiliate activity is available at

The Lemelson Center has led the study of invention and innovation at the Smithsonian since 1995. The center’s activities advance scholarship on the history of invention, share stories about inventors and their work and nurture creativity in young people. The center is supported by The Lemelson Foundation and located in the National Museum of American History. For more information, visit