Grantee Spotlight: National Building Museum Summer Program Honored by the White House


In 2013 the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation awarded the National Building Museum a $30,000 Good Neighbor Grant to support the museum’s five-week summer enrichment program, Investigating Where We Live (IWWL). Using digital cameras, creative writing, interviews, and their own observations, 35 Washington, DC, metropolitan area 7th to 11th grade students each summer explore, observe, and document DC neighborhoods with the help of volunteer photographers, journalists, urban planners, architects and engineers who act as guides and mentors. The program culminates with the students working in teams to plan, design, and install an exhibition at the museum, which more than 25,000 members of the general public view. IWWL explains that participants “learn to use photography, creative writing, and exhibition design as a means of understanding DC and describing how the city’s buildings, neighborhoods, and culture change over time.”

Participants develop a host of skills such as photography, writing, and design skills. They learn neighborhood histories and examine what influences neighborhoods’ appearances. They collaborate with peers and staff as part of a team and create a professional quality museum exhibition. In return for their commitment to the program, participants receive a digital camera, develop relationships with professional photographers, designers, museum staff, and fellow participants, and are allowed to keep their photographs for use in future projects, portfolios, or high school and college applications.

This past summer participants answered the question, “What does the past have to do with the future?”  Their exhibition, “Investigating Where We Live: Recapturing Shaw’s Legacy,” will be on display at the National Building Museum until June 8, 2014.

Since IWWL began in 1996, it has helped more than 500 teens investigate neighborhoods across the district, engage in the process of solving a problem or addressing a challenge, and learn new and create ways to express themselves visually.

IWWL’s wonderful work was recognized nationally this past fall when it received the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the highest honor such a program can receive in the United States.  IWWL was one of only 12 after-school and out-of-school programs across the country to receive the award, which was presented by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House on behalf of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

describe the image

Investigating Where We Live alumnus Jasmine Marr and Museum teen programs manager Andrew Costanzo accept the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from Michelle Obama. Photo by Ralph Alswang.

Congratulations to Investigating Where We Live for this well-deserved honor!


To watch First Lady Michelle Obama, Honorary Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, honor the 2013 winners of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, watch this video: