Clear geodesic Story Dome

Physical Story Dome opens in Lightcatcher building

Nestled in a corner of the Lightcatcher lobby sits a large geodesic dome. Inside, a plush rug, table, microphone, and two chairs invite visitors to step inside. This new addition to the Museum is the physical representation of our Story Dome project, which has been operating virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally intended as an on-site story recording booth tied to the exhibition Conversations Between Collections, the Museum had to pivot when our doors shut in mid-March due to COVID-19. Rather than wait to launch the program, we went digital to collect stories about peoples’ experiences during the quarantine. Through the virtual Story Dome, community members of all ages have shared their thoughts about being stuck in place.

Now, with extensive safety and cleaning measures in place, Story Dome is finally open to in-person visits. Here’s what you need to know.

The Story Dome project

Clear geodesic Story Dome

The Story Dome recording booth in the Lightcatcher building.

Inspired by StoryCorps, our Story Dome is linked to Conversations Between Collections, which features three masterworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum in conversation with works from our permanent collection.

The artworks in this exhibition allow for fresh perspectives on place and identity that emphasize the preservation and celebration of storytelling. After viewing the works, visitors can record oral responses to questions inspired by the exhibition.

Participants can respond to one of the following prompts:

  • How do you think the works in Conversations Between Collections present ideas of personal identity? What colors, ideas, or images do these artists use that relate to your own identity?
  • Many works in Conversations Between Collections are landscape paintings. What does your internal landscape look like? Paint a picture of this landscape in words.
  • The artists in Conversations Between Collections tell various stories through their artworks. Share a story about being stuck in place. How has your sense of place shifted over the past few months?

The exhibition

The artworks on view in Conversations Between Collections aim to promote meaningful dialogue. For instance, visitors can ponder what is familiar and foreign in a landscape. They can also observe how elements of each work denote a sense of place.

Two of the masterworks, Fritz Scholder’s Indian and Contemporary Chair and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s State Names, are on view alongside the stories and art of Northwest Coast People in the exhibit People of the Sea and Cedar. These contemporary paintings by two renowned Native American artists upend traditional colonial narratives and romanticized portrayals of Indigenous Peoples.

In addition to those two works, the exhibition also includes The Coast of Genoa by Hudson River School painter Jasper Francis Cropsey. The work is on view alongside landscapes from prominent West Coast and Northwest artists including Richard Gilkey and Paul Horiuchi.

Amy Chaloupka, Curator of the exhibition, says the artworks on view reveal the interconnection of identity and place.

“This year we’ve found ourselves in situations where certain places are not as available or are off limits due to COVID-19,” Chaloupka says. “The impact of these places to support our well-being and connection with others is heightened. Sharing how we feel in times of frustration and stress can help us cope. We hope the Story Dome provides an outlet to share the ways place impacts our lives and identity.”

Going virtual

Man on story dome website

A man participates in Story Dome online.

For those who aren’t ready to visit us yet, you can still participate in our Story Dome project online here.

Two virtual gallery tours of Conversations Between Collections are available on our website and YouTube channel. Viewers can watch part 1 and part 2 of the virtual tours led by the Museum’s Curator of Art Amy Chaloupka.

After watching the tours, we invite viewers to record a short story or poem reflecting on one of the prompts. The prompts are easy to follow and only take three minutes or less to complete.

A huge thanks to everyone who has participated in the Story Dome project so far. To listen to Story Dome recordings, please visit our SoundCloud station.

This project is possible thanks to the generous support of Art Bridges. Conversations Between Collections is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative.

We hope you’ll come see the exhibition for yourself and participate in Story Dome. The Museum is open Wednesdays-Sundays from noon to 4:30pm.