Smithsonian American Art Museum Hackathon Day 1!

luce-foundation_small At around 8am on a chilly Saturday morning, the Smithsonian American Art Museum opened it's doors early for a special group. A group that decided this weekend they would get together and help the Art Museum modernize the digital face of the it's Luce Foundation Center (

The group consisted of developers, cartographers, user experience specialists, engineers, strategists, White House fellows, game developers and more. I don't know about you, but that is one good looking group!

The Smithsonian team worked hard to get an API up and running that we could use to access the entire collections of the American Art Museum. For now, that api is private, and well, that made us feel pretty special. :) . I would like to give credit to that team now (with contact info to follow in the second post):

  • Sarah Allen- Presidential Innovation Fellow and Smithsonian Institution
  • Bridget Callahan-Luce Foundation Center Coordinator, Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Georgina Goodlander- Deputy Chief, Media and Technology, Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Diego Mayer-  Presidential Innovation Fellow and Smithsonian Institution
  • Jason Shen- Presidential Innovation Fellow and Smithsonian Institution
  • Ching-Hsien Wang- Supervisory IT Specialist, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Smithsonian Institution
  • Andrew Gunther- IT Specialist, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Smithsonian Institution and volunteer at the Smithsonian Transcription Center
  • Deron Burba - Chief Information Officer, Smithsonian Institution
  • George Bowman- IT Specialist, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Smithsonian Institution
  • Rich Brassell- Contractor, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Smithsonian Institution
  • Eryn Starun-  Assistant General Counsel, Smithsonian Institution

Day 1

Day 1 started with a general overview of expectations (thank you Georgina), and a fantastic tour of the Luce Foundation Center provided by Bridget. The tour was a walking, talking, invigorating ideation session. As we strolled through the incredible pieces in the collection, questions posed led to note writing, Ipad jotting and inquisitive “I have an idea” looks.

After about 2 hours, we head back down to the MacMillan Education Center to prepare for an all out hackathon session ending at 11pm. We receive our mission to create an elevator pitch of our idea by 4pm Sunday afternoon, and get to work.

Teams were organically created as we all huddled together and started building our prototypes. There was an exhilarating buzz in the room, an energy that can only be found in hackathons. This is enhanced by the fact that we aren't receiving monetary prizes, job promotions, or some kind of national acclaim.

We are here because we believe in bringing a better user experience for visitors of the Luce Foundation Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. We are here to help an institution that really belongs to the people of this nation.  Okay, that's enough “tooting our own horn," but it had to be done.

During our "brainwork" and lunch-eating, we were given a great overview of the API, with some sample use cases and instructions. The Smithsonian’s technology team was extremely helpful and stayed with the hackathon the whole time to ensure everyone was able to access resources correctly. They even gave us a very nice web-based “hackpad” where we could all post questions, share thoughts and keep track of our work.

There were small brain-breaks were groups broke out to work on other projects and remove themselves from their work to get a little extra stimulation so they could look at their ideas with a fresh mind. Thank you Erie Meyer for that. Erie works for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy,  (  That's a pretty cool gig.

White paper with post-its, colored makers, sketches, flow diagrams and the like were lined up across the wall. If you just stopped and looked around, you could see the brain power that room encapsulated.


As the evening hours neared, pizza came and the “idea-ting” continued. I must admit I left a little early to handle some non-hacking work, so I look forward to checking in with my team, and getting back to you all on Hackathon Day 2. I will be writing about  final results, photos, videos and some general commentary from my fellow hackathon crew.

If you want to check out other resources before the second post of the hackathon, feel free to peruse these useful links:

Stay tuned for Day 2 and final results!

Signing off