imagiNATIONS Activity Center

Opening May 17, 2018

Rendering of main activity space in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

Native people were the original innovators of the Americas: that is the powerful message of the imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

In this family-friendly, interactive space, visitors of all ages will explore Native scientific discoveries and inventions so ingenious many continue to affect the modern world. This exploration is made even more fun by solving puzzles, performing experiments, and playing state-of-the-art computer simulations.

Did You Know?

  • Amazonian people invented a chemical process more than 3,500 years ago to make rubber like we use in basketballs and sneakers.
  • Mesoamericans used natural tree latex called chicle to make the first chewing gum thousands of years ago.
  • Over generations, Native Americans harnessed the potential of natural grasses, trees, bushes, and even cactus to breed edible crops. Today four of the top ten crops that feed the world originally came from Native American farmers: corn, potatoes, cassava, and tomatoes.
  • The cross section of a finished iglu is not a half-circle, but a catenary arch—the perfect geometry to prevent bulging or cave-ins because it uses compression to distribute the weight of the ice blocks.
  • Some Inka bridges spanned gorges 150 feet across at a time when the longest bridge in Spain only spanned 95 feet.

These are just a small sample of the amazing facts visitors to the imagiNATIONS Activity Center will learn through a variety of hands-on activities and workshops that explore innovations by Native peoples across the Americas.

Take a look at some of the exciting experiences in imagiNATIONS:

The Crop-etition Challenge

In this computer farming simulation, players pit their skills against weather, pests, and pellagra (Vitamin B deficiency) to keep their families alive the way Haudenosaunee people of what is now New York did. They must choose the best combination of crops to survive. Up to four can play, but there is a surprise: if they compete, the outcome won’t be as good as if they cooperate.

Do Maya Math

The Maya had an elegantly simple way of doing math that uses only three symbols to represent all the numbers. Visitors can choose to learn this on a computer or using shells, beans, and sticks the way Maya merchants did. But there is a catch—the Maya used Base 20 instead of Base 10. To succeed, you also have to use the symbol for zero, and that shows why it was such an important invention.

Make It Shake It

Which bridge design stands up better in an earthquake—a stone arch or a suspension bridge? Students can perform this experiment to find out. Their model bridges won’t work unless they tighten the tension on one and compress the other—engineering principles modern bridge builders still use. Above this activity hangs a full-scale replica of an Inka suspension bridge made by the bridge-builders of Qeswachaka, Peru.

As of December 2017, lead support for the National Museum of the American Indian’s imagiNATIONS Activity Center in New York is provided by the City of New York, with support from the Office of the Mayor, New York City Council and the Manhattan Borough President’s Office through the Department of Cultural Affairs; Valerie and Jack Rowe; The Rockefeller Foundation; and the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. Major funding is provided by the Booth Ferris Foundation; The Walt Disney Co.; Margot and John Ernst; the George Gund Foundation in memory of George Gund III; and the National Council of the National Museum of the American Indian. Additional support is provided by Uschi and Bill Butler; Con Edison; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the Golden Family Foundation; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; the Riverside Church Sharing Fund; the Rauch Foundation.