Smithsonian Announces the 2017 “American Ingenuity Awards” Winners and the Launch of the First Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival

Annual American Ingenuity Awards Honor Individuals Who Are Transforming American Culture; Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival Launches With a Monthlong Series of Free Events Featuring Awards Honorees and Other Luminaries
October 26, 2017
News Release

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Smithsonian magazine, the flagship publication of the Smithsonian Institution, has announced the honorees of the sixth annual American Ingenuity Awards, and the launch of the inaugural Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival.

Called “the Golden Globes of Intellect,” the American Ingenuity Awards honor individuals across eight wide-ranging categories: Technology, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, History, Social Progress and Youth.

The 2017 American Ingenuity Awards honorees are:

  • Jony Ive, chief design officer at Apple, honored for Technology
  • Ava DuVernay, director and screenwriter, honored for Visual Arts
  • John Legend, singer/songwriter/activist, honored for Performing Arts
  • Dave Malloy, creator, and Rachel Chavkin, director, of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, honored for History
  • Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind Sesame Street, for creating Julia, the first Muppet with autism, honored for Social Progress 
  • Marley Dias, the 12-year-old creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks, honored for Youth
  • Gary Steinberg, chair of neurosurgery at Stanford, honored for Life Sciences
  • Natalie Batalha, mission scientist for NASA’s Kepler Mission, honored for Physical Sciences

The ceremony honoring this year’s winners will be held Nov. 29 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The honorees will be presented their awards by special guests, including Laurene Powell Jobs, David Oyelowo, Quincy Jones, Josh Groban, Branford Marsalis and NASA’s John Mather.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts will also host a reception at the Supreme Court for the winners.

The honorees will be featured in Smithsonian magazine’s special December American Ingenuity Awards issue, available on newsstands Nov. 28, and on

“This year’s American Ingenuity Awards honorees are revolutionizing American culture,” said Smithsonian Editor-in-Chief Michael Caruso. “Since their launch, the awards have always recognized the cutting edge of American achievement. It’s no accident that the winners of our Physical Sciences award last year, the LIGO team, just won the Nobel Prize in Physics. The success of the awards program has led to a major expansion this year, the creation of the Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival. The festival will bring to life the spirit of innovation at many of our great Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., and in New York.”

The Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival kicks off Nov. 15 and continues to December. Highlights of the festival include:

  • A discussion with American Ingenuity Awards honoree Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo about the new black Hollywood at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Nov. 29).
  • A daylong rolling conversation among leaders in the arts and sciences, including renowned musician Yo-Yo Ma, Washington Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, New York Times columnist David Brooks, actress Alfre Woodard, acclaimed chef José Andrés and Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton about the exciting ideas that make them optimistic about the future, at the Arts and Industries Building (Dec. 1).
  • A discussion with American Ingenuity Awards honoree John Legend about what he considers his best album, Darkness and Light, as well as his other incredible recent accomplishments at the National Museum of American History (Nov. 29).
  • A discussion with Quincy Jones about his incomparable career as a composer, arranger and producer in the television, film and recording industries at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Nov. 30).
  • A recreation of Duke Ellington’s second “Sacred Concert” in commemoration of its 50th anniversary by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra at the National Museum of American History (Dec. 1).
  • A presentation by American Ingenuity Awards honoree Natalie Batalha, leader of the revolutionary Kepler Mission, with a cocktail reception later the same day and conversation with NASA’s only Nobel laureate, John Mather, at the National Air and Space Museum (Nov. 30).
  • A celebration of Sesame Street’s innovative contributions to American culture with special guest Walkaround Julia, one of Sesame Street’s newest residents, at the National Museum of American History (Nov. 30).

Smithsonian museums hosting events include the Arts and Industries Building; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York; National Museum of American History; National Air and Space Museum; National Museum of Natural History; and National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Most of the events are free and some require a reservation. For more information about the programs, to purchase tickets, make reservations and to get up-to-the-minute event details, go to

About Smithsonian Media

Smithsonian Media is composed of its flagship publication, Smithsonian magazine, Air & Space magazine, Smithsonian Books and the Smithsonian Media Digital Network. In addition, Smithsonian Media oversees the Smithsonian Institution’s interest in the Smithsonian Channel, a joint venture between the Smithsonian Institution and CBS/Showtime. Smithsonian Media is a division of Smithsonian Enterprises, the revenue-generating business unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex consisting of 19 museums, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. Approximately 30 million people from around the world visit the museums annually. Visit and

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