The Interaction Lab at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the launch of seven prototypes commissioned under the Activating Smithsonian Open Access program. The selected teams each received $10,000 to create new digital interactions and innovative tools that enable play and discovery with 2D and 3D digitized assets from the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections. The teams retain ownership of the intellectual property developed from the program.

Made possible by Verizon 5G Labs, the Activating Smithsonian Open Access program fosters a new approach to activating museum collections by expanding access to deep engagement for people of many abilities and interests worldwide and supporting creative technology teams in the process.

“It’s been incredibly exciting to support this diverse group of creators in designing experimental platforms and experiences so that audiences worldwide can play, learn and discover with Open Access collections,” said Rachel Ginsberg, director of the Interaction Lab. “This program gets right to the heart of the Interaction lab’s mission—to introduce new ways of thinking and working that push at the boundaries of museum engagement and transform our collective approach to designing museum experiences to better reflect the communities we serve.”

“The global pandemic highlighted the importance of using technology to find new ways for students, parents and teachers to engage with educational content,” said Sanyogita Shamsunder, vice president of product strategy, innovation & operations at Verizon. “We’re thrilled to sponsor the Activating Smithsonian Open Access program and see all of the innovative, immersive and interactive experiences the participants have developed.  We look forward to our collaboration with the Smithsonian that will support its ‘Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past’ initiative. Over the next five years, Verizon will provide high fidelity scanning of collections and artifacts along with the creation of new digital experiences that bring history and culture to life.”

The commissioned projects of the Activating Smithsonian Open Access program are:

Art Clock (Zander Brimijoin, Daniel Scheibel, Greg Schomburg, Erin Stowell, Lisa Walters and Jiwon Ham)
Art Clock playfully brings art into daily life, one minute at a time. Created by users scouring the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections for art that could be interpreted as an analog clock face, Art Clock displays a uniquely appropriate image for every minute of a day and offers users a novel way of exploring Open Access data.

Art Echo (John Roach, Zhizhen (Jerry) Tan and Thomas Tajo, Eraince Wang, Benny Zhang and Lan Zhang)
A web-based virtual-reality experience that reveals the acoustic attributes of 3D objects in the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections. In this virtual gallery, users can move through periods of the Earth’s history and encounter some of its inhabitants in order to experience objects and their stories through imagery, sound and simulated echolocation based on the teachings of Thomas Tajo, a blind echolocation user and teacher.

ButtARfly (Jonathan Lee, Miriam Langer, Rianne Trujillo and Lauren Addario)
ButtARfly brings butterflies from the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections to life on screen. Users can browse and learn about butterfly species, add them to a virtual shadow box and release them into an augmented-reality experience for desktop and mobile. In addition to its visual elements, ButtARfly offers a sound signature for each butterfly specimen, effectively turning the shadow box into a playable virtual instrument and adding a layer of sound to the augmented-reality experience.

Casting Memories by Loot Merch (Mayowa Tomori, Michael Runge, Rita Troyer, Olivia Cueva and Olu Gbadebo)
Casting Memories confronts the impact and legacy of looted art and white supremacy in museums through the perspective and intimate experience of a Nigerian artist/technologist/scammer learning about the art’s stolen history and identity through the Benin Bronzes in the Smithsonian collections. To illustrate how creativity can be used to transform, reclaim and remix painful memories into liberative, new media, the project also presents a series of open-source, downloadable 3D art objects inspired by the collection.

Doorways into Open Access (Abigail Honor, Jean-Pierre Dufresne, Angelo Calilap, Gevorg Manukyan, Yan Vizinberg, Chris Cooper and Alex Robete)
This augmented reality experience transports audiences back to the Paris of “La Belle Epoque”—a golden era that began in the early 1870s and lasted through the beginning of World War I in 1914. Downloading the app opens a virtual portal to 1912, inviting travelers to learn about artifacts of the time drawn from the Smithsonian’s Open Access collection.

ScienceVR Treasure Hunt: Space Mission (Jackie Lee, Ph.D., Yen-Ling Kuo and Caitlin Krause)
This multiplayer game features an interactive, social learning experience using objects from the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections. Players discover, authenticate and collect digital artifacts to score points and win the game while learning from each other in the process.

Writing with Open Access (Jono Brandel, Sunny Oh and Hiroaki Yamane)
Thanks to Writing with Open Access, participants can explore the Smithsonian’s vast Open Access collections guided by their thoughts. They can write something, wait a moment and a collage of related images will appear. Whether for creative inspiration, scholarly research or to tackle writer’s block, this novel, web-based interface helps generate new ideas and supports 10 languages.


Smithsonian Open Access remains the largest interdisciplinary source of open-access content among museums and cultural institutions. It features high-resolution 2D and 3D images of collection items, research datasets and collections metadata. All images carry a Creative Commons Zero designation, which waives the Institution’s copyright and permits a greater variety of uses, both commercial and non-commercial, without the need for Smithsonian permission or payment.

The Smithsonian Open Access collections and more creations people have made with this content are available at


The Interaction Lab is an embedded research and development program driving the reimagining of Cooper Hewitt’s audience experience across digital, physical and human interactions. Since its fall 2019 launch, the lab has injected new ideas into the museum’s work through internal workshopping and strategy, a public program series merging interactive design and museum practice, and a commissioning program that engages the design community as creative collaborators in creating the next wave of the Cooper Hewitt experience.

For more information, visit


Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum, education and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 215,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BC to contemporary 3D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world.

For more information, visit or follow @cooperhewitt on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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