ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was Dec. 25 – Dec. 31, 2016

No one can keep up with everything, so let us do it for you. We’ll gather the top Smithsonian stories from across the country and around the world each week so you’ll never be at a loss for conversation around the water cooler.

With the kids on break and the relatives in town, we (and everyone else) spent the holiday week visiting museums. Oh, and don’t call our newest museum the “Blacksonian” because, well, just don’t.


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8 DC Museums You Have to Visit If You’re a Science and Nature Nerd

Washingtonian, Dec. 27

Gallery of Flight Hall with planes on display

The National Air and Space Museum offers a comprehensive look at the history and evolution of flight.

Lions, rocket ships, and spies, oh my! Washington is bursting at the seams with museums (many of them free!) catering to your every interest. See the complete list.

‘Hidden Figures’ Star Octavia Spencer on Playing NASA’s ‘Unsung Heroes’

“Honestly, I thought it was historical fiction,” actress says as part of “Close Up With TheWrap” video series presented by 20th Century Fox

The Wrap, Dec. 27

Three actresses pose in front of Apollo 11 space capsule

‘Hidden Figures’ stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae visit the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Corina Marie)

Octavia Spencer calls the three NASA mathematicians chronicled in her new movie, “Hidden Figures,” “unsung heroes,” and can’t believe the story of their contribution to the space program has been so overlooked.

“Honestly, I thought it was historical fiction because I had grown up with the narrative of what happened in the space race and we’ve seen so much archival footage, I thought the fact that we never heard of these women, it had to be fiction,” Spencer said. “And then I felt compelled to be part of the story because I feel like these women are unsung heroes.” Read more from Beatrice Verhoeven for The Wrap.

One ‘Alternative’ Inauguration Ball Will Be At The African American History Museum, Another Will Have Mike Hot-Pence

DCist, Dec. 29

Exterior of NMAAHC at night

Busboys and Poets’ Peace Ball is taking place at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on January 19. (Photo by LaTur)

While supporters of the president-elect are looking forward to celebrating his inauguration in D.C. at official balls and other pro-Trump parties, about 3,000 people are expected to fill the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the Peace Ball: Voices of Hope and Resistance on January 19.

Hosted by Busboys and Poets, it’s one of a handful of late-night soirées taking place in D.C. over inauguration weekend that will represent the overwhelming majority of District residents who didn’t vote for Trump in the presidential election. Read more from Christina Sturdivant for DCist.

Presidential Portraits: Staring History in the Face

The New York Times, Dec. 29

Visitors to Portrait Gallery, Clinton portrait prominent in foreground

Presidents at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, including the Bill Clinton portrait by Chuck Close. Credit Tyrone Turner for The New York Times

An inescapable fact of American elections is that a new president’s mug may soon be in your face, nonstop. For Donald J. Trump, a corollary is that he, like all newcomers to office, can keep company with the mugs of his choosing, decorating the Oval Office with presidential portraits — typically the official ones in the collections on view at the White House and the National Portrait Gallery. Read more from Holland Cotter for The New York Times.

Washington’s National Portrait Gallery Unveils Donald Trump’s Picture

The museum’s choice may surprise you

ArtNet News, Dec. 30

Portrait of Trump with an apple

“Donald Trump” by Michael O’Brien, 1989 (printed 2011).
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © Michael O’Brien

Preparations for president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration are well underway at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery, which holds a collection of American presidential portraiture.

Curators have now selected a 1989 studio photograph by Michael O’Brien from the museum’s collection, which will go on view from January 13. Read more from Henri Neundorf for ArtNet News.

Don’t Call it the Blacksonian: Lonnie Bunch on America’s Best New Museum

The founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture talks about what comes next for a museum drawing historic crowds to Washington, D.C.

The Atlantic (CityLab), Dec. 30

Lonnie Bunch at podium against red background

Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

When the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors in September, it fulfilled a promise made more than a century ago, in 1915, when black veterans gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. They pledged then to build a museum to black history and culture. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, made their dream a reality.

Bunch also fulfilled a different promise, one he made to the country, or at least to reporters—or maybe just to himself. Over the course of the museum’s long construction, Bunch insisted that it would open before the nation’s first black president left the White House. The ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over by President Barack Obama this fall was one of the high points of the year and an essential moment in the history of the Smithsonian Institution. Read more from Kriston Capps for CityLab.


Posted: 5 January 2017
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.