We at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center believe the soul of a museum lies not in its brick-and-mortar walls but in what happens inside those walls — the experiential friction between guests and hosts, history and future. 

We developed Culture Labs to bring artists, scholars, curators, and the public together in creative and ambitious ways – and to show that anyone can make a “museum without walls” by curating collaborative, participatory, and socially responsible spaces where people can come as their true selves.

A Culture Lab is hands-on, colorful, musical, emotional and highly interactive. It can be big or small and take many forms as long as it’s centered on building and empowering its community through art, history, science and stories.

Our Culture Labs



September 14

May 2016 // Washington, D.C.



September 16

November 2016 // New York City

Ae Kai

Ae Kai

July 7

July 2017 // Honolulu

Culture Lab Manifesto

We at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center believe that museums engaging communities should be built upon:

A culture of memory.

Every place embodies genealogies we must honor. Amplifying hidden histories builds empathy. Intervening in public space enriches our collective memory.

A culture of representation.

Prioritize local artists, participants, and organizers. Nothing about communities without those communities.

A culture of becoming.

Open yourself to growth through conversation. Push both your ideas and practices while recognizing your innate value.

A culture of imagination.

Place value on daydreaming. Not everything is a logistic. Find the amazing in the margins.

A culture of presence.

Live-time interaction — nothing replaces human contact. Make all spaces maker spaces.

A culture of equity.

Pay artists. Pay artists fairly. Dismantle hierarchies. Everyone shares in the work.

A culture of community.

Create lasting collectives. Come to museums to be challenged, to change, to fall in love.

A culture of intersectionality.

Step outside the silos that constrain our narratives. Allow yourself to think, feel, and remember in the same complex ways that we live.

A culture of relevance.

Choose to engage in what matters right now.

A culture of belonging.

Forge brave space. Extend welcome and safety to all peoples and communities. Make room for the marginalized, especially by questioning what marginalizes them.

A culture of beauty.

Who gets to decide what counts as beautiful? Question aesthetic classifications and priorities.

A culture of inspiration.

Open the process. Dream together. Make together.

A culture of fun.

Play is innovation. Play is care. Play is life.

A culture of action.

Stay woke. We have a social contract with one another to protect the vulnerable and ensure human rights for everyone.

A culture of sustainability.

Treat your space as if you are preparing for 40 generations of inheritance. Strive to leave a small footprint, but a major impact.

The Culture Lab Manifesto was originally published in the July/August 2017 issue of Poetry.

Culture Lab Manifesto Playbook

The Culture Lab Playbook leads institutions, organizations, and individuals through the community-centered process that we follow when creating Culture Labs.

This Playbook encourages you to dive into the Culture Lab process—each activity is linked to one of the beliefs in our Culture Lab Manifesto.By doing each activity, you recreate sensations felt, heard, seen—and in some cases—tasted, from previous Culture Labs.

Questions or feedback about the Culture Lab? Contact us at apac@si.edu