Smithsonian Open Access

Since the Smithsonian’s founding in 1846, its mission has been clear: “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” In order to more effectively fulfill our “diffusion” mission in more relevant ways, on February 25, 2020, we released 2.8 million 2D and 3D images and 173-years of staff-created data into the public domain as Creative Commons Zero (CC0).

Our public-facing goal for Smithsonian Open Access is to make the nation’s collection available to people around the world for any purpose: to make discoveries, build new knowledge, and to develop new art and creative projects to help us see the world a little differently. The internationally-recognized CC0 declaration and self-serve platforms allow people to do this, even for commercial purposes, free of charge and without further permission from the Smithsonian. The data set is diverse and includes art, design, culture, history, science and technology, so we released several platforms to reach lifelong-learners, K-12 educators and students, and researchers in a variety of disciplines. These platforms include:

Since the Smithsonian had the good fortune to learn from and join the more than 530 “open GLAM” institutions, we were able to adopt best practices and expand them to serve our mission and diverse audiences. We also had several internal goals for implementing Smithsonian Open Access:

  • With 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and zoos, we had different policies and practices for digital collections access. Phase I of Smithsonian Open Access allowed us to bring digital collections professionals together to develop new decision trees, FAQs, and an Open Access Values statement to act more cohesively as an institution. This policy was carried across five different collections management systems, and across the numerous websites where digital collections are served.
  • Realign staff with mission-critical activities, minimizing the burden of unnecessary fulfillment forms and better focused on enhancing metadata information and enriching storytelling.
  • Increase use and awareness of collections leading to a strengthened and more relevant brand.
  • Change Smithsonian culture to be less risk-averse.
  • Invite open knowledge, creative, education, and tech partners to help us better understand our relevance in various sectors and diverse end-users.
  • Understand the gaps in accessibility and usage.

Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III stated, “[Open Access] is about more than access. We’re empowering our audiences to remix, repurpose, reimagine all the richness we offer. We’re inviting viewers to become collaborators–to engage critically, to think expansively, to imagine freely. We’re welcoming every person to create and share something of their own.”


how-to-make-a-collagasaurus PDF of illustrated booklet designed for Open Access young learners.

▶Smithsonian Open Access Teen Songwriting Intensive: N M Bodecker Foundation and Musician Chris FunkSmithsonian

two men wearing NASA hats and jackets holding books in front of a whiteboard with masked bird cartoon characters
Creative drawing sessions with school groups attending An Open Book Foundation field trip to the National Museum of Natural History event with AstroNuts author and illustrator.
theater seating of grade school children observing a presentation
3rd and 4th graders from Kimball Elementary and the author/illustrator of Astronuts who use OA images in their book series. National Museum of Natural History, Q?rius Theater
data mapping diagram of several thumbnail images
Data visualization showing cluster of artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum that are in Wikipedia.
five people gathered around a table with a blue tablecloth next to a sign that reads Access Smithsonian
Access Smithsonian table at the Open Access launch event.