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Press Room


Smithsonian American Art Museum Expands Virtual Audience

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Web site, which recently received a number of awards, is engaging record numbers of visitors on the Internet through online exhibitions, learning .tools and interactive experiences for adults and children alike. During the month of January 2001 the site received more than 4 million hits and was visited by more than 95,281 unique users. This was nearly double the number of hits received in January last year.

"While our main museum building is being renovated, we truly are a 'virtual museum,' " said Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "We want our Web visitors to have a captivating experience using interactive technology to make their virtual visit exciting and .enriching."

First launched in 1995 and re-launched on Jan. 1, 2000, offers a number of unique, interactive elements that prompted Forbes Magazine to name it a "Best of the Web" art museum site last fall. The piece describes as "a party at every click," "particularly rich" and "a wealth of interactive choices." USA Today also honored the site, declaring it a "hot site" of the day on December 7 and January 24.

"1001 Days and Nights of American Art" banishes the notion that art museums are stuffy. In a whimsical countdown to the museum's re-opening, "1001 Days and Nights of American Art" celebrates such significant occasions as the birth of ice cream's inventor, the birth of Johnny Appleseed and the signing of the United States Constitution. Colorfully illustrating these events with both well-known and obscure artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum's vast permanent collection, "1001 Days and Nights of American Art" appeals to visitors ages 8 to 80, luring them back for repeat visits.


" '1001 Days and Nights of American Art' is the icing and cotton candy of," said Broun. "Its pure, lighthearted fun makes this calendar one of my favorite parts of the site."


Questions about American art never have to go unanswered again. "Ask Joan of Art" answers inquiries of all kinds— everything people wanted to know about art, but were afraid to ask. Through a question-and-answer format via e-mail, research specialists at the museum use print and electronic resources to provide visitors with information. "Ask Joan of Art" began in 1993 through the museum's site on America Online, making it one of the earliest digital reference services offered on the Web. Another online reference, the "Inventories of American Paintings and Sculpture," offers documentation of more than 300,000 artworks in public and private collections worldwide.

As the Web transforms all aspects of life in this new millennium, the creation of art is also affected. "Helios," the museum's online photography center, creates a community for the convergence of photography and technology. A New Media/New Century Award was recently announced on "Helios" to honor Web-based art that explores American landscape. Three winning entries will be posted on in early 2001.

Learning tools and activities are also an important focus of the site. "Kids' Corner," an interactive art activity room, encourages hands-on experiences, while "¡del Corazón!," a bilingual Webzine for teachers and students, brings the museum's Latino art to the classroom.

While the Smithsonian American Art Museum undergoes renovation, 16 virtual exhibitions and 4,000 objects in the permanent collection are available for viewing anytime. Online highlights from the museum's "Treasures To Go" tour, the most extensive art tour ever, comprised of eight traveling exhibitions crisscrossing the nation through 2002, explore themes such as "Young America," "Scenes of American Life" and "Contemporary Folk Art." The Principal Financial Group® is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people.

The museum's history as a "virtual museum" began in September 1993 when it entered into a partnership with America Online. Innovative in establishing an early presence on the Web, the museum offered information services, digitized images and interactive activities. has also been honored on numerous .occasions in addition to its mentions in Forbes and USA Today. This year the site was listed in Smart Computing's "Best 2500 Web Sites" issue. It also won the award for Best Museum Research Site at the 1999 Museums and the Web Conference and was named one of the top 100 Web sites in the world in PC Magazine in 1996.


The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection began with gifts of art donated to the federal government in 1829 and has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 38,000 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, folk-art objects, and contemporary crafts.

As the museum begins a three-year renovation at its main building, the Old Patent Office, it is continuing a full program of craft exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W.). For information about Renwick Gallery activities, call (202) 357-2700. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at