American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith At MOHAI

Posted on February 17, 2020, 2:48 pm
6 mins


March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

Opening April 25, 2020, at MOHAI the American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution celebrates the bold and radical experiment to test a new form of government, and is the only West Coast venue of the exhibit’s national tour. American Democracy makes clear that for the reason that democracy is still a work in progress, it influences the ideals of our nation’s political, economic, and social life. Therefore, its success depends on the informed engagement of each citizen

The traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) examines the continuing evolution of America’s – and Washington state’s – experiment in a government “of, by, and for the people.” For this reason, the exhibit also highlights the critical importance of active participation in our quest to form “a more perfect union.” Due to the 2020 election year ahead, Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry will feature hundreds of rare artifacts and images, as well as interactive experiences for audiences.

MOHAI is a Smithsonian Affiliate

MOHAI will incorporate regional stories and artifacts into the national exhibit. The exhibit’s presentation will include a look into Washington’s journey to statehood and over the following 130 years, highlighting key moments in our region’s history. Interactive experiences allow visitors to test their civic literacy, take the citizenship test, register to vote and voice their opinions on the issues of the day. As an exhibit and catalyst for public programming, American Democracy will reflect the value of civics education, and spark discussions that are essential to a healthy democracy. In addition to the Smithsonian artifacts, MOHAI will present nearly 100 local artifacts on display including campaign and protest posters, fliers and bumper stickers, furnishings from the first Territorial Legislature and the actual public address system that Bertha Knight Landes, Seattle’s first female mayor, used to rally women to the world of politics.

Laid Out In Five Sections

Each section demonstrates how our democracy relies on active participation to form “a more perfect union.” But who gets to participate? A most noteworthy question.

Based on the permanent exhibition of the same name at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the exhibit explores democracy from the Revolution to the present, using objects from the Smithsonian’s collection, ranging from a portable writing box designed and used by Thomas Jefferson while composing the Declaration of Independence to campaign materials, protest signs, and political memorabilia charting over two centuries of American political life.

Loans from the SuquamishMakah Cultural & Resource CenterBurke Museum, and more help illustrate enduring Native governance. In addition, the MOHAI Youth Advisory committee – teens dedicated to bringing a young person’s perspective to the museum experience – have curated a section to illustrate how youth participate in democracy, featuring artifacts reflecting the political activism of those too young to vote.

“I am thrilled that Seattle residents will not only have the opportunity to experience artifacts from the Smithsonian but that we can share rare pieces from MOHAI’s own collection that represent Washington’s role in the nation’s long journey towards self-government that welcomes all Americans,” said Leonard Garfield, MOHAI’s Executive Director.

Generous support for American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith

In Seattle, this exhibit made possible by the Boeing CompanyLaird Norton Wealth Management, the RealNetworks Foundation, and the MOHAI Exhibits Fund.  Media support provided by The Seattle Times and KCTS 9 | Crosscut.

Up-to-date information about American Democracy and related programming can be found in the MOHAI online calendar at, on Facebook or by calling (206) 324-1126.

Location, Hours, and Admission

MOHAI is located at 860 Terry Ave. in Seattle. Exhibit gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free on first Thursdays to MOHAI’s regular galleries and is open until 8 p.m. Please check the website for admission prices. As part of the Museums For All program, low-income families can visit MOHAI for a minimal fee of $2 per person with the presentation of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. For more information, call (206) 324-1126.


A Smithsonian Affiliate since 2009, MOHAI is dedicated to enriching lives through preserving, sharing, and teaching the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region, and the nation. As the largest private heritage organization in the State of Washington; the museum engages communities through interactive exhibits, online resources, and award-winning public and youth education programs. For more information about MOHAI, please visit, or call (206) 324-1126. Facebook: Twitter: @MOHAI.


SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 65 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at