Words matter. That’s the takeaway from Washington, DC's new interactive museum. Planet Word was originally slated to open in the spring and was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But today the museum finally opened its doors to the public.
The 51,000 sq foot space housed in the Franklin School is designed to educate us about language arts through engaging exhibits about the spoken, sung and written word. The location is auspicious for two reasons: not only is the Franklin School the flagship of the first public schools opening in Washington DC, offering free universal education to boys and girls, but its rooftop also happens to be the spot where Alexander Graham Bell made his first wireless transmission from his photophone, an invention that used a beam of light to transmit sound.
Though the opening was delayed, Planet Word continued to develop its exhibitions and is now operating in accordance with public health guidelines. "I am so thrilled to open Planet Word's doors to the public and cannot imagine a more fitting time for a museum of language to open in our nation's capital," said Planet Word founder and CEO Ann Friedman. "Democracy depends on literate citizens. I hope that Planet Word can provide a forum for civil discourse and a place where our community, in all its vibrant diversity, can gather to share the words that bridge differences and forge solutions."
Dubbed the world’s first voice-activated museum, Planet Word engages visitors through 11 immersive galleries. In one, guests can “paint” a scene with words using small brushes, which will change the virtual landscape and scene. In another, a 22ft-high Word Wall comprising more than 1000 three-dimensional words will light up and respond to voice, telling stories about how these words made their way into the English lexicon. And a huge chandelier/globe with 5000 LED lights will challenge visitors with word games incorporating language from dozens of locale and cultures – including two kinds of sign language. Would-be performers can take a shot at karaoke, while those who want to hone their public speaking skills can recite iconic speeches such as JFK's challenge to Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s inspirational “I Have a Dream” call for a post-racism America.
In addition to the exhibit galleries, Planet Word features a wordplay puzzle room, a gift shop, an auditorium and classrooms, and will host ongoing live programming like “Wordshops,” performances and events, author readings and community conversations. Check out their website or this video for a sneak peek.
This article was originally published on February 4, 2020 and updated on October 22, 2020.
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