The Long Conversation

Social Media Share Tools

What do award-winning actor Alfre Woodard, The New York Times' David Brooks, drag queen Sasha Velour, NASA's head of the mission to Jupiter, and one of the world's leading cancer surgeons have in common? They all know something that makes them hopeful for the future. Come find out what at this one-of-a-kind event in one of the most beautiful buildings on the National Mall.

The Long Conversation is an epic creative marathon between artists, scientists and other big thinkers that's guaranteed to leave you feeling better about the future. Once a year, NASA astronauts, Grammy-winning musicians, tech CEOs, poets, inventors and more converge in the historic Arts & Industries Building for a lively 8-hour relay race of surprising conversations around the best ideas on the horizon. No moderators. No slides. All chemistry.

Sound crazy? It is—also uplifting, surprising, and a ton of fun

A magical setting: Come for the inspiration, stay for the surprise performances, art installs from Julia Buntaine Hoel, Phaan Howng, McCormack and Figg, and Gabriel Mellan, and the rare chance to explore the soaring halls of the Arts & Industries Building, America's first national museum.

Food and drink: Don't miss the locally-sourced gourmet menu from James Beard Award winner Spike Gjerde of A Rake's Progress at the Line Hotel and drinks from DC's small-batch, women-owned distillery Republic Restoratives



Watch Select 2018 Conversations

Sasha Velour Interviews Malak Wazne

Roy Wood, Jr. Interviews Mercedes Lopez-Morales

View the list of speakers by session.

Please note that this schedule is subject to change. No really—this outline is tentative and could totally change. All of our speakers are incredible and we are confident that you’ll enjoy whichever session you register for.

Watch Session 1

Dr. Liz Cottrell
Geologist and Curator, Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History
Studies the other 99% of the planet. Rock person. Oxygen pusher. Volcano user. Mom. Camper.

Obi Felten
Head of Getting Moonshots Ready for Contact with the Real World, X the Moonshot Factory
Technologist. Entrepreneur. Angel investor in women founders. Yogini. Biker. Beekeeper's wife. Mama of 2. Grew up in Berlin and saw the wall come down. 

Michael Govan
CEO & Wallis Annenberg Director, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Piloting the largest art museum in the Western US. Curator. Smithsonian Board of Regents. Wannabe computer programmer. Provocateur.

Dr. Carla Hayden
14th Librarian of Congress
First female and first African American Librarian of Congress. Book nerd. Spinach smoothie drinker. Disco lover. Big fan of story time.

Danny Hillis
Inventor and Co-Founder of Applied Invention
Computer Theorist. Scientist. Author. Engineer. Designer of the 10,000-year clock, creator of supercomputers. Former Disney Imagineer. Holder of over 300 patents.

Cheech Marin
Actor and Comedian
Actor. Director. Comedian. Author. Chicano art collector. Half of Cheech and Chong. First Celebrity Jeopardy Champion.

Larisa Martinez
Opera SingerAcclaimed soprano
Turnaround Arts artist ambassador. Currently on tour with Andrea Bocelli. Dog Mom. Fashion fanatic. World Traveler. Proudly Puerto.

David Skorton
Secretary, Smithsonian Institution
Leader of the Smithsonian. Lover of arts and humanities. Supporter of the sciences. Advocate for education. Diffuser of knowledge. Board-certified cardiologist. Jazz flutist. Former U of Iowa and Cornell University President.

Jacqueline Suskin
Performance Poet
Improviser. Author. Educator. Manual typewriter devotee.  Prone to spontaneous verse. Nature lover.

Mily Treviño-Sauceda
Co-Director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas
Launched Hollywood's #TimesUp movement. Lifelong activist for women farmworkers. Grassroots organizer. Teenage farmer. Mexican-American. Single mom.

Watch Session 2

Scott Bolton
Associate VP of the Southwest Research Institute of Space Science
NASA astrophysicist. Leading mankind's charge to Jupiter. Space adventurer. Music fan. Science educator. Leftover bunch of molecules from the Big Bang.

Dr. Laura Esserman
Director, Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, University of California San Francisco
Breast cancer researcher. Innovator in patient care. Oncology surgeon. Challenger of status quo. Chanteuse. Time’s 100 Most Influential.

Bruce Friedrich
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Good Food Institute
Plant-based and clean meat innovator. Planet champion. Founding partner of New Crop Capital. Lover of cats and chickens. Vegan.

Mercedes Lopez-Morales
Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Searching for the next Earth. Astrophysicist. Lecturer. Researcher. Spanish-American. Convinced we are not alone.

Jessica O. Matthews
Founder & CEO of Uncharted Power
Developing renewable power infrastructure solutions for communities around the world. Inventor at age 19. Forbes 30 under 30. Chairwoman of Harlem Tech Fund. Harvard’s Scientist of the Year. Nigerian-American. Believer in all things authentic, disruptive and empowering.

David Rubenstein
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Carlyle Group
Philanthropist. History buff. Leader of one of the world's largest private equity firms. Chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents.

Sasha Velour
Drag queen, House of Velour
Winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9. Producer and star of “Nightgowns.” Creative force behind “Velour: The Drag magazine.” Designer. Illustrator. Fulbright scholar. Brooklynite.

Naomi Wadler
Sixth grader. March for Our Lives speaker. Glamour Woman of the Year 2018. Tennis Player. Runner. Singer. Kind is the new cool.

Malak Wazne
Photographer and Award-Winning Filmmaker
Activist. Student. Former Member of Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton's Youth Advisory Council. Arab American. Participant of TIME's "Guns: An American Conversation."

Roy Wood Jr.
Southerner. Correspondent on Emmy-nominated "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah." Host of Comedy Central’s “This is Not Happening” and the forthcoming "No One Loves You." Proud Florida A&M grad. Ex-Jedi.

Alfre Woodard
Academy Nominated and Emmy Award Winning Actor
Celebrated actor. Agitator/Activist. Mother of exceptional millennials. Producer. Storyteller. 35 years into first marriage.

Bei Yang
Walt Disney Imagineering Technology Executive
Disney Imagineer. Experience creator. Tech junkie, design nerd. Food, breakdance, and karaoke enthusiast. 

Watch Session 3

Dr. Jean Bennett
F.M. Kirby Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Pennsylvania
Curing blindness. Co-creator of first ever gene therapy approved in the US. Amateur musician. Beekeeper. Aspiring farmer. Can’t draw. Married to a key collaborator.

David Brooks
Columnist, The New York Times
Critically-acclaimed author. Yale professor. Husband, father. Canadian-born American. Questioner. Happiness seeker.

Troy Carter
Founder, Atom Factory and Cross Culture Ventures
Legendary talent manager for Lady Gaga, John Legend, and Entertainment Advisor for the Prince Estate. Tech Mogul. Former Global Head of Creator Services for Spotify. Investor in Uber, Lyft, Warby Parker, and Dropbox. Aspen Institute Fellow. Husband and Father. 

Spike Gjerde
Chef Extraordinaire
Restauranteur of A Rake's Progress and Woodberry Kitchen. James Beard Award winner. Obsessed with local. More obsessed with toast.

Jon Grinspan
Curator of Political History, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
Historian and (cautious) fan of democracy. Curator. Author. New York Times contributor. New dad. Dog dad.

Hawah Kasat
Co-Founder and Executive Director of One Common Unity
Author. Community Organizer. Yoga Instructor. Non-profit Leader. Spoken Word Poet. Documentary Filmmaker. AmeriCorps Alum.

Nick Pyenson
Paleontologist, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Expert whale chaser, living and ancient. Author of "Spying on Whales." UC Berkeley Ph.D. Favorite fossil is the one yet to be discovered.

Malak Wazne
Photographer and Award-Winning Filmmaker
Activist. Student. Former member of Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton's Youth Advisory Council. Arab American. Participant of TIME's "Guns: An American Conversation."

C. Brian Williams
Founder and Executive Director, Step Afrika!
Award-winning Producer. Dancer. Artist. Cultural Ambassador. Teacher. Howard grad. Frat Boy. Intense lover of the performing and visual arts. Sixth-generation Texan. 

Niagara, Phaan Howng
Using large-scale landscape paintings, sculptures, and installations, Baltimore-based Phaan Howng cinematically stages the beauty of a post-human earth in order to initiate dialogues about the current crises of world ecology. Phaan will be adding swaths of color to AIB with her newest installation Niagara. The work will feature a vibrant focus painting, as well as three free-standing sculptures that represent the naturescape of a far future earth.  (Visit website, follow @phaanlove)

Optical Optimism, Gabriel Mellan
Focusing his art making on interactive sculpture and installations involving sound, motion, light and technology, Mellan’s work is fueled by material process and minimalistic forms.
With “Optimist Wall,” he invites you to refrain from taking things at surface value by revealing what is universal and inside us all. (Visit website, follow @gabrielmellan)

Zero dot Zero dot Zero, McCormack and Figg
Jenn Figg and Matthew McCormack began collaborating in 2009, after recognizing mutual interests in energy, technology and the environment. They use a variety of materials including glass, textiles, metal, sound, video, and electronics to investigate the connections between ecology, industry, science and identity.
McCormack & Figg will be illuminating this year’s central stage with a massive site-specific kinetic light sculpture, bringing a new energy for the future to the 140-year old space. (Visit website, follow @dr.jennfigg)

Wave(s), Julia Buntaine Hoel
Julia Buntaine Hoel is a conceptual artist, director of SciArt Center, and editor in chief of SciArt Magazine. She also teaches, consults, curates, and frequently writes about the intersection between art and science, and is currently the Innovator-in-Residence at Rutgers University. With her 3D brainwave sculptures, Hoel's artwork serves as a fascinating physical representation of the ideas in the room. (Visit website, follow @JuliaBuntaine)

The Long Conversation is an experimental conversational format originated by the Art Angel Longplayer project in London in 2009, and brought to the US by the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. It is a relay of two-person dialogues for a set period of time, unified by a common prompt. In this case, each participant brings one idea with them about something that makes them optimistic about the future—a trend, an experience, an innovation, a technological breakthrough, a movement. It starts with two people on stage and every 15 minutes, one person leaves and another comes on. Each person is on stage for a total 30 minutes, during which time they have two 15-minute conversations with two people from different backgrounds about their ideas. Think of it as TED Conversations, instead of TED Talks.

AIB is the second oldest Smithsonian building on the National Mall, built in part with the ticket proceeds from the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia, and served as our country’s first National Museum.

Called the “Palace of Invention” or the “Mother of Museums,” it was a grand experiment to showcase the latest ideas that were about to change the world, introducing millions to the steam engine, Thomas Edison’s lightbulb, and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. For the next 120 years, its soaring halls and vaulted skylights created the perfect backdrop for a parade of the Smithsonian’s greatest marvels, from dinosaurs to Apollo rockets. Never fully renovated, the building closed to the public in 2004.

As part of its next chapter, a renewed A&I will open occasionally as a space for very special events and exhibitions that share its sense of hope, energy, and possibility.

Learn more here

Share your experience using #TheLongConvo. Photography is encouraged (personal, non-commerical use).

Are you a member of the media hoping to cover the event? Email


How do I get tickets?

Free tickets will be released online Monday, Nov. 5. Entry times will be staggered by 2-hour sessions throughout the day to keep the event's intimate feel. 

A note about seating: Seats are first-come, first served. (Get there early to get the cushiest bean bags!) At the beginning of each session, we'll release any open seats to the waitlist - late arrivals might not be guaranteed a seat but can always watch the simulcast from the lounge or standing room. In between each session, the hall will clear, and will refill for the next round. 

Do I have to arrive early, or stay the whole time?

Please arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled entry time to get checked in, grab a drink, and experience some magical moments before you sit down. We recommend staying for at least a full 2-hour session; many people stay longer, and return to watch later sessions. 

Don't forget to leave time to explore the incredible art installations, lounge, chat with friends, and grab some gourmet bites from James Beard winner Spike Gjerde's pop-up café, and cocktails from Republic Restoratives. 

What should I bring?

Your e-ticket or printed ticket, excitement, an appetite, favorite friends, a date. Consider leaving valuables or larger bags at home; we'll have coat racks but no lockers or secured coat check. 

Getting here

The closest Metro stations are L'Enfant Plaza (Blue, Orange, Silver, Green, Yellow) and Smithsonian (Blue, Orange, Silver). Nearest WMATA buses are 30N, 30S, 32, 34, 36, 16X, 39, A9, and the Circulator. Plan your trip online

The SW Neighborhood Shuttle runs every 10 minutes, dropping off within a few blocks. 

Bike racks are located near the Smithsonian Castle, on the north side of the Arts & Industries Building. Several Capital Bikeshare racks are nearby. 

Street parking is metered and limited. 


The Arts & Industries Building is proudly ADA compliant, and welcomes visitors of all abilities with accessible entrances and restrooms.

To request complimentary ASL interpretation, please email two weeks in advance. The conversations will also be live-captioned and projected. 


Post! Download! Search! Free WiFi is available using the "si-visitor" network. 


For everyone's safety, all visitors must pass through a speedy security bag check. And you know better than to try to bring in any of these items, right?

  • Aerosol cans, including pepper spray and Mace
  • Outside food and drinks
  • Suitcases larger than a carry-on bag
  • Pets (other than support animals)
  • Placards, signs, banners
  • Scissors
  • Selfie sticks, tripods, monopods
  • Weapons and knives
  • Tools
  • Dragons, all breeds (just checking you were paying attention)

Watch the full 2017 Long Conversation here.

Speakers listed in alphabetical order

Renowned Chef and Owner, ThinkFoodGroup & minibar by José Andrés
2 Michelin-starred culinary innovator. Author. Educator. Humanitarian. Time's "100 Most influential People." James Beard Foundation "Outstanding Chef." 2015 National Humanities Medal. 

Mayor of Washington, D.C.
Proud fifth generation Washingtonian. Public servant. Advocate. Previous Ward 4 councilmember. 

Portfolio of Maketto, Toki Underground, Paper Horse Noodle Bar, Brothers & Sisters, and Spoken English. 2 time James Seard Award nominee. Husband and father. 

Chairman and CEO, Revolution; Co-Founder, AOL; Chairman, Case Foundation
Entrepreneur. Investor. New York Times bestselling author. Vice Chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents. 

Staff Writer, The Atlantic
Writer. Journalist. Author of World Without Mind. Slate contributing editor. Former editor of The New Republic.

Co-Director, Little Devices Lab at MIT
DIY Medical Technologist. TED Fellow. TR35. Lemelson International Technology Awardee. Creator of MIT's first course on affordable medical hardware. Brings makerspace technology into hospitals and outer space.

Hertz Foundation Fellow, Harvard University Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature
Aspiring theoretical physicist. First-generation Cuban-American & Chicago Public Schools alumna. Forbes and Scientific American "30 Under 30" lists. 

Director of the Arts & Industries Building, Smithsonian
Former Executive Director, President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities for the Obama White House. Documentary filmmaker. Policy wonk. Recovering lawyer. Artsy but just kinda. 

Geologist, Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian
Geologist. Chair for the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Member of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity. Home gardener. Biker. Beer collector. 

Distinguished Researcher, Autodesk Inc
Scientist. Futurist. Biohacker. Catalyst in biological technologies. Founder, Humane Genomics. Co-Founder, Genome Project-Write. 

Co-Founder, Hova Labs
Violinist. Composer. Artist. Women Who Code Core Team Member. Software Engineer. Neuroscientist. Synesthete. TEDMED speaker. 

Founder and CEO, Girls Computing League
Current senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. 2017 International Science Fair Finalist. Created an app at age 16 to diagnose diabetic retinopathy in rural India. TEDx speaker. 

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, AnthroTronix
Biomedical Engineer. Neuroscientist. MITTechnology Review "Top 100 World Innovators". Co-Chair, World Economic Forum's Global Future Council on Human Enhancement. 

World-Renowned Cellist
Citizen Artist. United Nations Messenger of Peace. Recipient of the 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Founder of Silkroad. Needs time management skills. 

Center Head, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Avian conservation scientist. Founder of The Migratory Connectivity Project and Neighborhood Nestwatch. Author. Co-founder of Tree House Concerts. Avid fly fisherman. Passionate cook. 

Autodesk, Vice President Platform Engineering
Computer nerd. Design evangelist. Electrical engineer. Holder of 6 patents in computer graphics. Amateur radio enthusiast. Dad. Cyclist. Bad speler.

Queer Latinx Writer
Writer. Speaker. Storyteller. Culture Nerd. Author of AMERICA, America Chavez's solo series for Marvel Comics featuring Marvel's first Latina lesbian superhero. 

Founder and President, Rockwell Group
Architect. Tony Award-winning set designer. Student pianist. New Yorker. 

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Carlyle Group
Philanthropist. History buff. Leader of one of the world's largest private equity firms. Chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents. 

President, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
First female President of the world's busiest performing arts center. Collaborator. Innovator. Childhood violinist and pianist. 

Director, Harvard University Center for the Environment; Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology and Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering
Professor. Geochemist. Paleoclimatologist. Dog lover. 

Owner and Artist, Sheldon Scott Studios
Storyteller. Actor. Performance artist. Social worker. Youth Pride Alliance, Teaching for Change Soard Member. 

Secretary, Smithsonian Institution
Leader of the Smithsonian. Lover of arts and humanities. Supporter of the sciences. Advocate for education. Diffuser of knowledge. Board-certified cardiologist. Jazz flutist. Former U of Iowa and Cornell University President. 

Deputy Director of Science for Communications, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Astrophysicist and research scientist. Host of How the Universe Works. Public Radio podcaster. Bad dancer. 

Curator of Sports, National Museum of African American History and Culture
Author of Globetrotting African American Athletes and Cold War Politics. UCLA Alumnus. Former professor. 

Co-founder, Global Air Media
Entrepreneur. Drone pioneer. Founder, Baltimore Youth Drone Racing League. Baltimore born and raised.

Email us at We’d love to hear from you.