Americans, an exhibition illuminating how Native American images, names, and stories infuse American history and contemporary life.

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As we continue to honor Native American Heritage month, this week we are sharing a case study on “Americans,” an ongoing exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. This 2021 SEGD award winning exhibition project was led by Studio Joseph, graphic design by NR2154, and media table and website design by Bluecadet. 

“‘Americans’ highlights the ways in which American Indians have been part of the nation’s identity since before the country began. It will surround visitors with images, delve into the three stories, and invite them to begin a conversation about why this phenomenon exists.

Pervasive, powerful, at times demeaning, the images, names, and stories reveal the deep connection between Americans and American Indians as well as how Indians have been embedded in unexpected ways in the history, pop culture, and identity of the United States.”

— Excerpt from the Smithsonian Website

This 9,200 sf exhibition is organized as a series of galleries expanding off of a central hall. The dynamic multi-media exhibition consists of history and popular culture references, guiding visitors to consider the deep and complex relationship America has with indigenous peoples. The design team was tasked to creatively incorporate over 300 objects and related text into an organized experience, working to form a personal connection for visitors. Additional considerations for the exhibition design included a minimum 10-year lifespan and an installation able to withstand wear and tear.

The range of objects from a classic 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle to a Native American Barbie, required a thoughtful system for organization and display. The team worked to create a hierarchy and storytelling methodology to inspire visitors to dive deeper into their understanding and learn about the indigenous references in these objects.

The central hall “Indians Everywhere,” comprises 32 exhibition structures that were quickly assembled on site containing the lighting, data and security for over 200 elements. Without standard stud walls to support the sections, the design team collaborated with fabricators to utilize building techniques such MDF cabinetry with plywood backup for the display cases, allowing electrical and data feeds to be integrated for museum control. 

Intuitive touch screens guide visitors through the immersive gallery, revealing history and significance to items ranging from mascots to missiles. The interface greets visitors in a user-friendly method, with scrollable grids of digital images corresponding to physical gallery items, and mimicking the physical graphic motif to create continuity throughout the entire exhibition.

Decoders, located on the exhibition hall at ADA compliant tables, are oriented to maximize views of the panoramic exhibition and are designed to accommodate two singles users at once.

The “Americans” exhibition surrounds visitors with images and stories, working to create a conversation as to why this phenomenon of infused Native American references exists in American history and modern-day iconography and language.