Design for the groundbreaking for Planet Word Museum,” Eighty2degrees Design Studio

November 18, 2019; GW Hatchet

Next May, the historic Franklin School in Washington, DC, will open as a museum exploring the history of words and language.

Patty Isaacson Sabee, the executive director of Planet Word, says the project has been in the works since 2013 and was the brainchild of CEO Ann Friedman. An international advisory board has been established, providing the new museum the active counsel of scholars, linguists, and “creative practitioners.” The group is also working on the exhibits with Local Projects, a company in New York that developed designs in the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Preceding Planet Word are a few similar efforts, as the Washington Post describes, including Mundolingua in Paris and language museums in Toronto and the Netherlands.

One might ask, where did the money come from? It turns out Friedman is the daughter of a late shopping-mall billionaire, and she is funding the school’s renovation to the tune of $25 million. Lead gift…woman who runs in monied circles…what more could one ask for a museum being started from scratch? And the formula worked here; evidently, Friedman “has raised $16 million of the $20 million required to create the exhibitions and support the first year of operations. Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Poetry Foundation, and AT&T are among the project’s major donors.”

Sabee’s description of the museum, which will be free, is enticing. “You’ll talk to the museum, the museum will talk back to you,” Sabee says. The first exhibit one might encounter is “a 22-foot-high wall of three-dimensional words that respond to what you say.”

“We are all born curating our own words from the day we’re born,” Sabee says. “We’re curators. So why not be able to explore from the lens of a museum that looks at value to a community, that thinks in reflective ways about what matters and why it matters?”—Ruth McCambridge