WASHINGTON – Pop culture fans can now see Prince’s guitar, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” Jim Henson’s original handmade Kermit the Frog, Nipsey Hussle’s chains, Mr. Rogers’ sweater and more iconic artifacts all in the same room – for free.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., debuts a new permanent exhibit on Friday that explores the history of American entertainment, showing off memorable objects, outfits, graphics and clips from scores of the most influential entertainers and artists through the years.
It also examines the intersection of pop culture with politics and social issues, prompting guests to evaluate the role their favorite stories and art have played in influencing the world around them.
“I hope people walk away with a sense of not only the richness of American entertainment history, but really thoughtful about the questions that the entertainment raises, and how they feel about the entertainments they consume,” says curator Krystal Klingenberg. “This exhibit covers music, film, television, sports and theater, and we all have some attachment to the various things you might see, but (the thesis is) to think deeply about that power of entertainment, and the way that it affects our lives.”
Alongside clothing – including Elizabeth Moss’ “The Handmaid’s Tale” costume, Latin icon Selena’s leather jacket and Bill Nye’s light blue lab coat – are immersive, interactive exhibits, from a three-wall video exploration into the history of stereotypes in comedy to touchable metal versions of some of the most famous artifacts for visually-impaired guests to a chunk of the original Woodstock stage that guests can stand on themselves. Each sign, caption and description is written in both English and Spanish, and many objects also have QR codes through which guests can access audio descriptions of the visuals in front of them.
Ultimately, curators hope guests will walk away with a greater understanding and thought process behind why iconic entertainment symbols hold the power they do, and how that reflections the identity of the nation.
“It’s not necessarily a history of entertainment, as much as it is history of the United States through entertainment,” says curator Ryan Lintelman. “We want to show that these things aren’t separate from the political … This stuff helps to shape Americans understanding of what’s happening in the world.”
Lintelman says these pop culture moments “shape the way that we think about each other. And so this is the really important stuff of American history just as much as anything.”
Klingenberg adds: “One thing I really appreciate about this exhibit is it really reflects a diverse America. And it uplifts people and places and stories that we may know, but really (give) a true, broad sense of who we are.”
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