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Summer Institutes: Teaching the Humanities through Art

Photos of Teacher Institute activities

Institute participants engaging with American art, enjoying a reception on the Museum’s portico, and creating original podcasts.

  • WEEK 1: Monday, July 11–Friday, July 15, 2016
  • WEEK 2: Monday, July 25–Friday, July 29, 2016

Be inspired this summer at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as you join colleagues from across the country for an exciting exploration of the connections among American art, social studies, history, and English/language arts. Attend one of our week-long institutes in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Stay connected with your newfound colleagues and museum staff throughout the year.

View the 2015 Institute agenda (PDF) and video of past keynote addresses.

Who should apply?

Core subject teachers for grades 6–12 may apply as individuals or as part of a team. Priority will be given to social studies, history, and English/language arts teachers.

What will teachers accomplish during the Institute?

museum gallery

A participant discussing William H. Johnson’s Café with a museum educator.

  • Gain expertise from museum educators, curators, and content experts, through gallery talks, discussion groups, and hands-on activities
  • Learn to use American art in the classroom to foster critical thinking skills and deepen student engagement with content
  • Make interdisciplinary connections among American art, social studies, history, and English/language arts
  • Experiment with digital tools you can use to bring art into your classroom
  • Develop and share lesson ideas with peers

What is provided for Institute participants?

During Institutes:

  • Teacher’s Tool Kit including color reproductions, classroom discussion and writing exercises, project guidelines, and teaching strategies
  • Behind-the-scenes experiences at the Museum
  • Opportunity to engage with leading scholars during keynote addresses
  • Access to featured technology
  • Daily breakfast and lunch
  • Optional evening events and opportunities to explore Washington, D.C., such as a bus tour of monuments

Throughout the year:

  • Exclusive access to a collaborative website
  • Connection to a national network of Institute alumni
  • Museum staff support for curriculum development

What is expected of Institute participants?

Teachers Working

Teachers working together in the Museum’s galleries to interpret a painting.

  • Completion of pre-Institute assignments
  • Participation in the entire Institute; plan to arrive each day at the Museum by 9:00 a.m. and leave after 4:00 p.m.
  • Sharing of lesson ideas on the final day of the Institute
  • Contribution of ideas, comments, and resources to a collaborative website during the Institute and throughout the school year

What are teachers saying about the Institute?

  • "[The Institute] was a stunning success. I have become visually literate, I have learned new teaching strategies and I have access to an amazing collection of resources."
  • "This has been the most rewarding PD I have ever attended. The strategies and resources are of immediate practicality."
  • "I will look at art so differently from here on out. It won’t just be ’something to look at’ but something to learn from. I will also have a ton of strategies that I’m walking away with, which I really appreciate. In addition to those, I’m walking away with practice in them so I already feel like I know how to use them. And I will walk away with a much deeper art background than I came with."
  • "To say that it changed the way I teach is an understatement."

How to Apply

The deadline to apply for the 2016 Summer Institutes has passed. Please check back in the fall for information about the 2017 Summer Institutes.

Important Dates

Applications Due: April 3, 2016
Acceptance Notification: April 22, 2016
Scholarship Applications Due: April 29, 2016
Scholarship Notification: May 6, 2016
Registration Deadline: May 13, 2016


A committee will review all completed applications and notify accepted applicants via email by April 22, 2016. The Museum will attempt to accommodate all applicants’ date preferences, subject to space limitations. Efforts will be made to enroll educators from across the country for geographic diversity.

Registration and Cost

The registration deadline is May 13, 2016. A non-refundable registration fee of $200 per person is required. Participants are responsible for travel and lodging costs. A low-cost housing option has been provided in past years through a local university. For more information about transportation and low-cost housing recommendations, please email View tips for funding your professional development.


The Smithsonian American Art Museum is pleased to offer a limited number of $500 scholarships per Institute. Scholarships may be used to cover selected participants’ registration, travel, and lodging expenses, as well as other potential costs of attendance. To apply for a scholarship, submit the following to with the subject line "Summer Institute Scholarship." The scholarship application deadline is April 29, 2016:

  1. One-page letter addressing:
    1. What you value most about teaching
    2. Your interest in the Institute
    3. How you anticipate applying lessons learned to your work
  2. Letter of recommendation written by and emailed from a teaching colleague or school administrator addressing your collaborative spirit and creative contributions as an educator
  3. Résumé

Scholarship recipients will be notified via email by May 6, 2016.

Graduate and Professional Development Credit

Teachers in Gallery

Participants in the midst of a writing activity, looking closely at a landscape by an unknown folk artist.

If you are interested in receiving graduate credit for your participation in the Institute, please contact for more information.

Upon request, museum staff will provide documentation of participation including total contact hours.


For more information about transportation and low-cost housing recommendations, please read the FAQs.

Direct inquiries to

Interested in participating in one-day teacher professional development experiences? Consider these upcoming Professional Development Workshops.

Video of Past Keynote Addresses