The Smithsonian has hired the former head of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to make the Arts and Industries Building “a laboratory for creativity.”
As the building’s director, Rachel Goslins will collaborate with Smithsonian Institution curators and museum directors to develop a plan for the building that opened in 1881 as the first home of the Smithsonian’s collections. Goslins starts the newly created position on Aug. 22.
The redbrick Victorian structure next to the Castle was closed in 2004 for renovations that took almost 12 years and cost $55 million. It has been used sporadically since last fall, when it hosted the ceremony that installed David J. Skorton as the 13th secretary of the Smithsonian.
“The building is an amazing space that throughout the last 120 years has been used in very forward-looking ways,” Goslins said. “A priority for us is going to be using the space to create a locus for creativity and innovation and technology, and to create something on the Mall that doesn’t exist.”
From 2009 to 2015, Goslins was executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the panel that advises the White House on cultural policy. During her tenure, she helped launch “Turnaround Arts” to bring arts education to low-performing schools and “Film Forward,” a cultural diplomacy program.
She worked with the Smithsonian, UNESCO and the U.S. State Department on the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project to recover and restore artifacts and artwork damaged by the 2010 earthquake. She is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who began her career as an international copyright lawyer.
The Arts and Industries Building was the first home for several Smithsonian museums, including Natural History, American History and Air and Space. In 1976, it hosted a major exhibition commemorating the American bicentennial.
The second-oldest Smithsonian facility, it is at the center of several controversial plans. In 2011, a congressional commission identified it as one of several sites for a potential Latino museum, but that proposal has languished in Congress. In addition, the building is in the middle of the South Mall Master Plan, a 17-acre parcel that the architect Bjarke Ingels has been hired to redevelop. The project has been criticized for proposing multiple floors of underground space beneath and around the historic Castle while ignoring the sprawling interior of the Arts and Industries Building next door.
In a nod to the museum effort, Goslins said the building will host a Smithsonian Latino Gallery that will be dedicated to spotlighting programs and collections reflecting the story of Latinos. She said she is not concerned with possible congressional action but will work to engage visitors, museum experts and others in the creative industries.
“The question is ‘What’s the next chapter for the building?’ not necessarily ‘What’s the end of the story?’ ” she said.
“There’s a huge energy there,” she said. “There’s power in beautiful spaces, and the challenge for this building is how do we take that and turn it into a place where we can have a powerful conversation about creativity and innovation.”