Success once again led to a separate museum building, this time for the National
Air and Space Museum. On 4 July 1976, the National Air and Space Museum opened on the Mall to the east of the Arts and Industries Building and quickly became the most popular museum in the world. But once again, the Arts and Industries Building was left empty.
National Air and Space Museum, 1976
This time Secretary Ripley had a grand plan for this museum. As our contribution to the Bicentennial of the American Revolution, the Arts & Industries Building was renovated to look like the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, taking us back to our roots. On opening day, Ripley and Regent Warren Burger arrived in period costume in a horse drawn carriage. The Ripley era was a time when museums were fun and lively.
Even inside this staid old building, visitors could hear the festive music of a calliope, recalling county fairs and 19th century Fourth of July picnics. A year later, in 1977, the A&I Building was given status as a historic landmark. The Discovery Theater opened in the building in 1977.
Entrance to A&I in 1976
As the collections loaned for the Bicentennial exhibit slowly were returned to their owners in the 1980s, this building began to look a bit empty again. In 1991, the South Hall was converted into an experimental gallery. Its goal was to revive Goode's emphasis on innovative exhibit techniques. In the 1990s, the Arts & Industries Building has hosted the first exhibits of the African American Museum Project and the new National Museum of the American Indian. Once again, new museums have had their dress rehearsals in this building.
Over its 116 year history, the A&I Building has hosted almost every
aspect of the Smithsonian--art, history, natural history, history of technology, portraiture, air and space history, African-American and Native American history. It has often been the place where the Institution takes chances and experiments with new exhibits, new topics, new methods of display. It stands at another of its crossroads today, not quite sure where it is going, but it has always been and remains an integral and often innovative part of the Institution, a launching pad for our most successful exhibits and museums.
South Yard with A&I
on the right in 1987