Planet Word Museum - Ann Friedman, Founder, CEO, Creator


Today we're having an adventure. I'm going to take you on a tour of a new museum. That is called planet. Word combining two of my favorite topics on earth language and the planet. And before we do the tour. I have the privilege of talking to an friedman who is the ceo. founder chief. cook and bottle washer. She made this happen. It's her vision. And she is a former first grade teacher. And i'm really to hear about this so here we are green connections. Radio is bringing you to planet word. We haven't taken a tour yet. So i will learn a lot as we go welcomed reconnections connections radio where we bring you insights from remarkable women. Innovators in energy sustainability at corporate responsibility and diversity on john michaelson. I'm just gonna launch right in right now actually. 'cause i'm just so excited to be here. So welcome and welcome to green actions radio and thank you for hosting us your brand spanking new facility. My pleasure thank you for talking to me and being interested of course so first. Let's go to the origin story if you will. How did this idea come to you. You've been a teacher reading and writing your obviously married to journalists censure that has an influence so talk about how you came up with this idea and how you made it happen so i retired from teaching in two thousand eleven. But i wasn't ready to leave literacy or education. That was really important to me and so i tried a few different volunteer opportunities and nothing was quite right and then i read an article in the new york times about the launching of a new museum of mathematics in new york city. Monmouth and it used technology to bring his abstract concepts of math to life. And when i read that. I said that's it. That's what i could do or should do because what was really bothering me was all the trends going the wrong way in literacy and people not reading for pleasure and newspapers folding and so i was trying to think what could you do to reverse those trends and and i thought well maybe a museums informal approach to education and learning could do the trick and so that was the story. I went up to new york. I became friendly with the founders of moma and talk to them. What should i do. What should i not do. I gotta museum consultant. Who did a feasibility study in the washington area of weather. This idea of a museum words language would fly and It was very positive. And i kept getting positive feedback from the people that we talked to himself. There was no turning back. I just kept working on it. L. that's cool so. I'm so glad you talked about newspapers folding because especially right now in the face of a pandemic in all of the crises we have going on in the united states and globally. I guess i could say people are realizing how much local news matters. i keep reading obviously. I'm an audio and radio. And i read about a lot of radio. Stations that are of rescuing their communities and integrating reporters who've been laid off from local newspapers et cetera. Now now you're just launching but have you found that your even coming up with this idea and forwarding and bring it to. Life has helped any of the the struggling literacy initiatives. Because you said you wanted to contribute to literacy even just in having discussions about it. Do you think that people kinda rallied and said what a great way to save literacy tremendous positive response from teachers especially people who said finally museum interactive museum about the humanities in particular a lot of groups bring eighth graders to washington especially during the summer during the spring and they can go to aaron space. They can go to science museums history museums. But there really anything like planet word and so many teachers were just ecstatic. Now we'll have a chance to go to a museum where language and words and reading in books come to life so they're very excited about that but chancer your question where all ready partnering with a couple of different literacy organizations in the metro dc area. Because i want to get books into the hands of children and so we're we're doing some book distribution partnerships and once. Covid is over or less of a threat. We have all sorts of proposals ideas about how to work with the community and enhance literacy. I'm also working with the group. That's really the park. That's directly opposite planet word and making sure that they incorporate some words and language into the park plans especially the children's playground which is directly opposite. Planet word oh that's a great idea. How did you come up with the name. Well i had about fifty names. That i played with and i would check. Is that name taken you know. Is there something already called the in such. And then i had focus groups and so i tried out my top two choices for names on them and they did not go over very well. I won't even tell you what they so. My next choice was planet word and the reason being because we say that language is what makes us human. and here's our planet. The planet we know about with people on it so planet word and the reaction of the kids who were in one of the focus groups was so excited. Yes of course you know. Words are universal. They're everywhere and so that's how we're came to be that the name of the museum. I love that and that's your target audience anyway right yet. Our target audience is ten to twelve year olds and so what we did focus groups. We had a focus group of ten to twelve year old boys. Ten to twelve year. Old girls. I was advised that they should be separated so the girls wouldn't be intimidated from speaking up. And then we had two groups were their parents of ten to twelve year olds and a so. We had four focus groups altogether. Oh i love that you know. It's interesting when i was coming to mind decide. I'm sure you know doctrines sto fan. I interviewed she's the head of aaron space and she's the first woman to have that museum and she's an amazing story. She raised children herself and she has told me that. Ten to twelve year olds were their primary audience to that. They're the one the main wants to come to l. the space museums. And so they they do the same thing in the sense of the design their exhibits with that as the anchor. And then obviously you want to appeal to adults etc. And of course they're going through a massive renovation. I i really call it a transformation. It's way beyond renovation at this point but other museum. Ceo's i've talked to was well the science museum in minnesota cetera. While you guys are from minnesota so that rings a bell but they target eight to ten to twelve year olds too. So i'm really interested in obviously helping girls learn languages and right and not depend on auto correct right because it sometimes wrong by the way but how did you go about deciding what exhibits to put here. Because from what. I saw in comparing this. You've got a lot of high tech as you said interactive things in walls that jump out and kind of be words things. How did you decide what to include. Well i made a list when i had this idea. I started listing concepts. That i felt had to be in a museum about words language and so that started with early childhood language acquisition. That has to be here. And then where two words come from you know and and there. I focused on words in english in there. So many ways that words enter our lexicon and some of them are really fun and interesting and and that makes up our Talking wall exhibit all the old iphone. Georgia's this yes. It said words. That right sam as a da da in men women have justice school. Then i wanted to show the diversity of the world's spoken languages so that's our major gallery have thirty language ambassadors and includes to sign language users. And so that's the first floor. It's sort of about where words come from. And what do we use all over the world but then you go down to our second floor and it's all about what we can do with words what you can create with words so songwriting. Humor joke writing Oratory literature poetry. That's on our second floor. And those were you know natural ideas for what would be a museum of words and language and then on our lower floor because you start at the third floor and you work your way down. It's all about the power of words so we have advertising copywriting and words used to sell causes or to sell products and then we have our less gallery that's called words matter and it's real people telling the stories about how words and language had an impact in their lives and we have a recording booth in the middle of that gallery so we think that visitor will be so inspired and motivated by the experience of the museum to want to tell their own story about words in their life and so they can go in and record their story. Oh i love that. It's funny people say to me. By the way. I taught communications to journalism at columbia. Union college forbid and i took my students. If i was still there i would take them here. But i took my students to the national archives and library of congress and we're just in maryland and they had never been here and they were just amazed and they're looking at all these books in there you know. I had them play speeches. Because obviously it's communications class and had them play speeches and then get tips for their own presentations and you can see their faces. Just light up. I mean so of course declaration of independence the bill of rights etc people. Ask me how. I got into this business. And i joke that i've been reading and writing copy since pre birth because my dad had an ad agency when i was a kid in new york city. And i'm the youngest of four so he would poke copy out of the typewriter at the time and handed to the closest warm body. And say we this out loud to me. That's fun so. I'm convinced that i probably read. His copy is the first thing. I read out loud. And my mom. Who just recently passed supported my contention that she read. Copy out loud while i was in the womb. So it's very funny. So i've been on all sides of communication coins so when i saw this i was like yes. So what happens at planet word in our copywriting gallery are oratory gallery. Our songwriting gallery. Which is like a karaoke lounge is that you learn the techniques that make that song or that speech or that ad really effective and persuasive and so in our were tar gallery. We have a choice of eight speeches. Everything from fossa from the lion king to John f kennedy's inaugural address. And you know more historic speeches like that even during our darkest nights so all the girls watching here now to know. But i've been you know we've only been open three days. But i've been struck by how popular that exhibit is and people young and old are so excited to use a teleprompter and give one of those speeches and we we show the techniques people can actually read as if they're barack obama giving his speech or whatever and we have barack obama giving His two thousand four nominating speech at the democratic national convention. I was actually there for that. So you know how moving it was. There's no black americans. There is no white america. There's no red or blue it's purple. Yeah some of my journalistic colleagues. Who's people you would now. And i looked at each other when oh my god what did we just say yeah. I'm sure we'll all of his oratory in his race speech was really powerful to An fdr's of you know day that will live in infamy. Did you take any effort to make sure that you had women's speeches and women's writings particularly how did you go about choosing that. The hong museum is well our one of our core values inclusivity so everything in every gallery. We i can't say that we said okay. There's you know twenty five men so there will be twenty five women you know reading writing poetry or whatever but We have a lens through which we vetted every single Gallery and experience in the museum and that is really gender neutrality diversity of all types subject matter author speaker so it was always at the top of our list of what. Check off you know. Is this going to make it in the museum or get left on the cutting room floor. The proverbial cutting room floor. Up why i would love to be there for that conversation. It was months and months. I'm sure and it was probably really difficult. Because there's so much great material. I'm you've got maya angelou. From obama's inauguration all the way to malala yussef cetera and every age. I wish we were doing some video. Her face is just so. You're so lighting up. I mean you're you're just start your passion is just glorious and it's really fun to see people doing work that they have such passion for. I just had to say that it's true erie ear so talk about the ways that people can come here and get an appreciation. Maybe for their own ability to use language. Well there's nothing that would say that's right or wrong. We just want you to try different things and you know there are interactive videos that you interact with through your voice So they're seventeen of those videos in our galleries in there will be many more. We have two that are being written right now. And they're on important subjects about words and language that people should know about if they come to planet word but they didn't make it into a big huge immersive experience but so we have interactive video screens. That ask questions about dialects and implicit bias and forensic linguistics. Can you use language to solve crimes. Do animals have language and so they're quite topical and sometimes controversial subjects. But in every instance you are using your voice and talking back to the interactive screen and choosing your answers and then the narrator will tell you you know not that it's right or wrong but actually this is you know the the answer and this is why so we have some really fun interactive's especially about humor Teaching a robot. How to tell a joke. What's funny what is it joke made up of you know punchline and tag in a different things like that lead up and timing exactly the elements of a good joke telling. Oh that's great. It's also coming to mind. Is i several years ago. I lived in la for many years. In fact i worked at sixty minutes. They are and i did. A tour of would take people to the museum of tolerance. And i was friends with a gentleman who became the chief of police in la and they're boys had their own issues of course and i was telling him about this museum and i persuaded him to visit and they integrated into their training for diversity and inclusion and part of the reason was there's this extraordinary component of that museum where you walk through and they're holograms yell. Epithets you and you have an experience of what it feels like to receive this ugliness and it's transformative so as as you're talking about experiencing language and what it how it moves people that also comes to mind for me. We have in our gallery cupboards matter one of the storytellers talks about being bullied and Starting at a young age and being asked do you want to die and so really powerful stories like that about how hurtful language words can be and someone asks me. You know where idea came from and one of the things that happened in my life that led to this museum sort of roundabout is that we were living in jerusalem after almost five years in beirut where i you know traveled all over the middle east learned arabic and now we're in jerusalem and someone yelled at me because i looked like you know jewish non palestinian person and i just thought to myself. You don't know me you don't know what my values are where i just spent five years of my life. You didn't take any chance to talk to me or get to know me just looked at you know what i looked like and so i vowed then that when we moved back to the united states that i would do something to build community and that's when i started to teach. Oh that's a great story. That's a wonderful story. I love that that channeling that anger in that ugliness into something so positive. This is so beautiful. So before. I let you go. I know that from from knowing you previous to this. That environmentalism is a big issue for you. And i've both you and your husband with earth day network stuff in things in general and thomas written a great deal about. I noticed this big to both of you. So have you taken pains to integrate any sustainable features into the way you did the museum. You're reading a building that exists so you didn't build a new museum. That's one thing for sure you know. Because it's a national historic landmark and there are restrictions on what we can do on the interiors and total restrictions on the exterior that dc requires buildings and developers to achieve leed silver status. It's very difficult on building of the sort where you're restricted in what you can do. But we are We've exceeded as far as we know the point total for silver. You know that's not the greatest by the way to give people perspective. I saw assumes referring choice how the plaque outside that this is where alexander. Graham bell said the first message in eighteen eighty s. I recall his first wireless message. He used light waves. So wireless was born in this building you know. besides it's it's a national historic landmark. Two times over the first reason is because of its architecture was innovative school when it was built in eighteen. Sixty nine you can see the tall ceilings and all the light that flows into the building and that was very innovative and it's also has a lot of embellishments in cast iron beautiful work that would was unusual for a public school in sixty nine. Especially right in. That's reconstruction reeler and that's because the architect adolf clues believe that poor children. All children should learn in a beautiful environment. Not just rich kids. Oh i love. That isn't that. I have an interesting connection to the light part which i'll tell you kind. Blow your mind a little bit. But tell us about the message. Sending the wireless message sending so in eighteen eighty alexander. Graham bell sent a message using light to an associate a couple blocks away and that was successful and he called that invention the photo phone. It never really became anything. But it is considered the first example of a wireless communication and he said at the time was so prescient. This invention is more important than the telephone. He knew that wireless would be that important right. It's transformed our lives ago. Did he send wers and morse code. What did he actually send. How was that message constructive. That i can't tell you exactly but it was words so Just to put a kind of fun exclamation mark on that story. Physicists enjoy my last name because my great great uncle was the first american scientists to win the nobel prize and he did because he measured drummer. Plays the speed of light. Wow he is literally the c. n. equals mc squared. Well so you kind of have a little connection to alexander graham bell experiment here you know. He probably had to use some of that background. And in fact it was the the measurement was just around the same time albert graduated the naval academy. He went to nail academy and he was if not he may have been the first jewish person by the way to go to the naval academy which was part of his whole story there but he graduated. I believe in eighteen seventy three and then he did a lot of this work at university of chicago and it case western and he won the nobel in nineteen seven. He was the first scientist from america to win the nobel prize. Congratulations what a legacy. I even feel more kinship to this building. It's like light words planet. I'm i'm all in and you also asked about other things that we've done so we have a green roof in serve along the perimeter of the terraces. So what does that mean grass. No it's plants. You know different plants that See them you know the usual green roof plants. But they're very pretty and we have beautiful carpet up there and you know we have a very advanced. Hvac system within the restrictions of what you could do to to the bill there now restrictions on on that you know everyone knew that we had to bring this building up to present-day standards especially fire safety ones but we have new systems everywhere. I'm seeing obviously there's a lot of light use. led lights and things like that everywhere Terrific do you have any kind of a food facility here. I realize it's you know in the midst of the pandemic. You might not have a cafe open. We did just sign a lease with immigrant food so that restaurant should open mood. What a great name i love. It's an existing restaurant near the white house. And they'll open their second three inch at planet word in spring. Oh how fabulous and so. It's a perfect alignment of missions of. That's great so in closing. You're saying that we start if you will at the top and work our way down. And what do you want people to leave the planet word with what's your what's your ideal experienced takeaway so interestingly that you start on the third floor and you end on the first floor that's ground level. I want you to go out on the streets of washington and be more empathetic to what you hear around you to be more careful with the words that you yourself use and to be part of a community so is really you know symbolic that you start on the third floor and you exit into our present day world. Where how you use. Words can make a big difference bryant. And that's a perfect way to close because words matter. thank you. And it's the story of my life. That's for sure accu so much. And friedman ceo visionary founder developer of planet word. Here in dc. And i encourage everyone to visit Excited for us. Walk around and do our own tour have fun. Thank you i will. I will so thank you so much for joining us. On green connections radio i'm joan michaelson. See you next time in please. Everybody stay safe and take care of each other. This message of empathy is important. See you next time.

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