Nothing about the Smithsonian Institution can be described as small, especially the impact of its staff. As an intern with the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives Summer Scholars’ Program in the Institutional History Division, I had the opportunity to learn more about staff at the Smithsonian Associates. Over the course of two months, I explored the dedication and inspiration behind the programs produced by Associates through processing a series of oral history interviews.
In 2013, director Barbara S. Tuceling sat down with her staff to record and recognize the groundbreaking work of Smithsonian Associates’ employees. In an interview on September 5, Tuceling asked Brigitte Blachere to discuss programming within the educational unit. Blachere revealed the enlightening and entertaining opportunities she had provided youth and families for 23 years.
Brigitte Blachere began her career with the Smithsonian Associates as a program manager in July 1999. She participated in and produced a variety of programs, including the Smithsonian Kite Festival, Smithsonian Sleepovers, and Smithsonian Summer Camp.
Founded by the Smithsonian Associates in 1967, the Smithsonian Kite Festival was one of the first kite festivals in the United States to cast flying competitions. In her oral history interview, Blachere distinguished it as the “grandaddy” kite festival because of its “longstanding grandeur.” Despite its breezy appeal, the festival was often overlooked or underbooked due to scheduling conflicts with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It was Blachere who enveloped the kites into the National Cherry Blossom Festival to designate its importance to the Smithsonian. Even though the kite festival is no longer connected to the Smithsonian, it has been adopted by the National Cherry Blossom Festival and continues today.
Blachere implemented the treasured Smithsonian Sleepovers following the release of the film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009). This event was originally held in the National Museum of Natural History, where guests could camp in their sleeping bags and experience a behind-the-scenes look at the museum, crafts, and guest speakers. Blachere examined how the sleepovers “evolved over time” into an “exploration of extremes [with] a guided journey of the museums.” Once the sleepovers dazzled the public, there was an explosion of interest throughout the Smithsonian and all over the world. The programs have expanded their overnight explorations to include the National Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery.