Things to Do

Celebrate American Innovation at the Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival

The events over these ten days will help you feel a little more hopeful about America's future.

Dwandalyn Reece interviews Quincy Jones at the 2017 Ingenuity Festival. Photograph by Michael R. Barnes.

Rock stars meet rocket scientists at the second annual Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival, a series of sessions celebrating American innovation from November 29 to December 9. The festival aligns with the Smithsonian’s seventh annual American Ingenuity Awards.  

“It’s about getting inspiration and from all different places. That’s what we are. We’ve got art museums, we’ve got science museums, we believe in social progress and diversity,” says Michael Caruso, the editor of Smithsonian magazine who created the event. “It’s this fantastic cross section of creativity. And there’s just a lot of cross pollination that happens.”

More than 50 events trapeze across Smithsonian museums, local theaters, and creative disciplines. The festival includes talks by Ingenuity Award honorees like singer/songwriter Janelle Monáe at the National Museum of African American History. Cinephiles and fans of The Office can head to the American Art Museum to learn about A Quiet Place from the movie’s director, co-writer, and leading actor, John Krasinski.

While some of the star-studded sessions are ticketed, much of the festival is free. Caruso recalls what Apple’s chief design officer Jony Ive said after his talk at the Hirshhorn last year. 

He said this evening has rejuvenated my faith in our species,” Caruso says. “And that’s sort of the way you feel. It’s like, as down as you get, as dark as things can seem, there are these incredible people who are out there working on bright, cool things for the future.”

Smithsonian museums today provide a look to the past but exhibits used to draw travelers seeking to learn more about inventions of the future. The plenaries and speakers are similar windows to cutting edge creativity. Someday, Caruso believes their innovation will be in the museums. Rather than surrender to the negativity clouding the country, the festival shows the magic still alive in America. 

“I think one of the things it inspires is this pride in America,” Caruso says. “I feel like we need to remember there is a genius to the American people and there is something very American about all of the achievements of these people. They could not have done what they are doing in other countries.”

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.