Foretelling the FUTURES

Amy Rogers Nazarov, a social media strategist in Washington, D.C., and a regular Torch contributor, shares her first impressions of the new exhibition at the Arts and Industries Building.

A and I building exterior long shot
The Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building. By Ron Blunt. Courtesy Smithsonian.

Since it opened in 1881, the iconic Arts + Industries building—incubator of museums, of history and culture, of ideas—has hosted President Garfield’s inaugural ball, the Spirit of St Louis, performances by John Phillip Sousa conducting the Marine Band, the ghosts of Secretaries Joseph Henry and Spencer Baird, and—for a short while—my office when I was a writer at what was then known as the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. I remember leaving for the last time in 2004, lamenting with a colleague that this leaky, spooky, falling-down-around-us grande dame of the Mall was going into an extended mothballing, and wondering what would become of her.

Rockets lined up next to a&I building
‘Rocket Row,’ a display of space rockets along the outside of the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building’s west entrance in 1959, when AIB held aviation and space collections prior to construction of the National Air and Space Museum, Image # SIA-2002-12168, Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Archives.

The other day, I got my answer. I was invited to a sneak peek at the brand-new FUTURES exhibition that spans 32,000 square feet inside the Arts + Industries Building. Now on view until July 6, 2022, the exhibition is your guide to a vast array of interactives, artworks, technologies and ideas that are glimpses into humanity’s next chapter.

Just coming across the threshhold of this building is time travel.

Curator Ashley Molese

Smell a molecule. Clean your clothes in a wetland. Meditate with an AI robot. Travel through space and time. Watch water being harvested from air. Become an emoji. FUTURES invites visitors to dream big, and imagine many possible futures on the horizon—playful, sustainable, inclusive. In moments of great change, we dare to be hopeful. 

Bespangled shoe planted with flowers
Detail from Devan Shimoyama’s The Grove installation (Photo by Amy Roger Nazarov)

Another writer and I listened over and over to a genderless voice assistant prototype. As we compared the voice at different frequencies, we wondered out our compulsion to classify the voice as male or female. What would a non-binary voice mean in terms of helping people across the spectrum of gender savor a different kind of representation?

Futuristic Painting
“Cosmic Listening,” Stacey Robinson, Courtesy Stacey Robinson.

FUTURES invites visitors to dream big, and imagine many possible futures on the horizon—playful, sustainable, inclusive. In moments of great change, we dare to be hopeful. 

The building itself—described at the launch event by FUTURES architect David Rockwell as “a glorious unicorn”— is worth the trip to the Mall, even without a crazy cool exhibit to explore. Until next summer, FUTURES will be housed inside AIB, where you can spot ancient fossils embedded in the floor tiles and absorb the collective memories of America’s social and industrial past as seen through the eyes of many generations of curators and visitors. A&I, you beautiful creature, it is so good to see you again.

Check out the latest edition of TorchLight for more and follow FUTURES Remixed to learn about upcoming events.

Posted: 23 November 2021
About the Author:

Amy Rogers Nazarov writes about D.C. culture & history and manages social media for non-profits and small businesses from her home on Capitol Hill. Her byline has appeared in Cooking Light, The Writer, Psychology Today, The Washington Post and many other print and Web publications. Before going freelance, she spent a decade reporting on high tech for a wide array of newspapers and magazines.

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