Baird's Dream: History of the Arts and Industries Building

Learn about the Smithsonian's first United States National Museum building, now called Arts and Industries, which opened in 1881, and the man who helped shape the Smithsonian’s future, Spencer Fullerton Baird. 

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Arts and Industries Building in the 21st Century

Screenshot of the live feed of the construction being done on the Arts and Indus After the Arts and Industries Building was moth-balled in 2006, the Institution briefly considered renting it out long-term to another organization, but the consensus of Smithsonian employees was that this historic building – the first US National Museum, of a unique and charming design, located centrally on the National Mall – needed to stay within the Smithsonian's aegis. Discussions began once again about its future.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which had held exhibits in the building, considered using the building, but ultimately decided not to due to size constraints, so they pursued construction of a new building. Federal financial stimulus funding was secured to stabilize the exterior of the building, and work commenced in April of 2011. The building will reopen in 2014 to display an innovation exhibition in conjunction with the US Patent and Trademark Office. It will also be considered for a Smithsonian Latino American Museum, which is currently being debated in the US Congress, or it may function as an education and welcome center for the Smithsonian.

Over its long history, the Arts and Industries 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, and new methods of display. Today, it stands at another of its crossroads, 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.