Come Together

Houston Health Museum links up with Smithsonian in unique partnership

Houston Health Museum links up with Smithsonian in unique partnership

Houston, Health and Medical Science Museum, July 2017
Health Museum president and CEO Melanie Johnson celebrates the Smithsonian affiliation with Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton. Courtesy Photo

The John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science Museum has become the first health museum in the nation to gain an affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution. As officials gathered at the museum to celebrate the partnership on Thursday, Mayor Sylvester Turner couldn't resist a proud pun.

“This is a healthy breakthrough for the city of Houston,” he told the crowd of dignitaries to much applause.

With this new link-up, the museum joins a select group of 217 Smithsonian affiliates around the nation. This prestigious partnership allows the museum to draw on the wide-ranging Smithsonian collection and other resources. The Washington, D.C.-based Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.

“This means we have access to those rare artifacts that are only on a national level and we get to bring them here and showcase them before the children here in Houston," Health Museum president and CEO Melanie Johnson told CultureMap.

Johnson said she already has her eye on Smithsonian artifacts surrounding the world's first successful heart transplant performed by Houston's Dr. Denton Cooley in 1969 for a possible exhibition if they are available.

Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton explained that the museum is a perfect fit to become the newest Smithsonian affiliate as it is one of the most interactive and frequented science learning centers in the country.

“The interesting things about Houston are its multicultural nature, the enormous accomplishments in both clinical medicine and medical research, and education, with 14 institutions of higher learning," Skorton said. "We found the Health Museum fills a particular spot because it's part of the seam here on both the museum side and also on the Texas Medical Center side."

Skorton further applauded the museum for its ability to incorporate the public into the discussion of health through interactive installations. One of the museum's current exhibitions, Human +, allows guests to explore and build tools that enhance the human body.  

The museum is the first in the Houston Museum District to receive the Smithsonian affiliation and only the second Houston entity to attain the designation. (The other one is the Johnson Space Center.)

Turner noted that the nearby Texas Medical Center has 10 million visitors a year, so "it's only a natural extension for the health museum to tie directly into the Medical Center." The Smithsonian affiliation "brings much more attention to the Health Museum and it's a tremendous plus for extending the brand of the city of Houston," he added.

With the seemingly endless archives within the Smithsonian, “the sky's the limit, literally,” Johnson said. "There are 156 million artifacts in the Smithsonian. To narrow those down is going to be the next task for us."

"We will find ways to work together," Skorton said.