MoPOP: Exploring the Power and Preservation of Pop Culture

MoPOP: Exploring the Power and Preservation of Pop Culture

Michele Y. Smith, CEO of the Museum of Pop Culture, discusses her vision for the institution and the importance of preserving pop culture.

Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, stands as a techno-organic marvel next to the city’s iconic Space Needle. Formerly known as the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, MoPOP has evolved into a cultural institution that celebrates the diverse realms of pop culture. Michele Y. Smith, the CEO of MoPOP, shares her insights on the museum’s mission, her inspirations, and the significance of preserving pop culture.

From Woodland Park Zoo to MoPOP: Lessons Learned and Challenges Overcome

Smith’s previous role as the Chief Business & Financial Officer at Woodland Park Zoo prepared her for the challenges she faced when taking on the leadership role at MoPOP. Navigating the economic obstacles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and spearheading the development of a comprehensive reopening plan for the zoo equipped her with the skills needed to reimagine and drive change within a cultural institution.

A Passion for the Arts and Pop Culture

Smith’s lifelong connection to the arts, fueled by her mother’s influence as one of the first Black ballerinas in Philadelphia, led her to pursue a career in the arts community. Her love for music, fashion, and film, combined with her business acumen, drew her to MoPOP. Smith’s aspiration to lead an organization that aligns with her values, allows her to be creative, drive revenue, and provide extraordinary experiences.

The Inspiration of Lenny Kravitz

Smith finds inspiration in the renowned musician Lenny Kravitz, who has made significant contributions to pop culture through his music, fashion, and cultural influence. As a Black woman, Smith celebrates Kravitz’s amplification of women within his genre and his ability to transcend boundaries with his blend of rock, soul, and funk. Kravitz’s fearless self-expression and impact on the predominantly white industry inspire Smith to empower artists to embrace their identities and make their mark on pop culture.

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Preserving Pop Culture: A Reflection on Classical Art

Smith challenges the notion that pop culture and classical art are separate entities, emphasizing that they are interconnected. Just as classical art was the pop culture of its time, pop culture today reflects the values, beliefs, and aspirations of society. Preserving pop culture ensures the conservation of diverse cultural expressions, providing insights into contemporary life and fostering inclusivity and understanding. Smith believes that pop culture serves as a platform for marginalized communities to share their stories and protect their heritage and identity.

The Future of MoPOP: Expanding Membership and Fostering Inclusivity

As MoPOP enters its third decade, Smith’s primary focus is on expanding the museum’s membership base to cater to the diverse needs of its guests. She aims to diversify and expand the donor portfolio to better reflect the community served by MoPOP, fostering inclusivity across all demographics. Smith envisions partnerships with like-minded corporations that share MoPOP’s mission of driving social change through gaming, film, music, and fashion. Together, they can create a future where artistic expression and cultural experiences are accessible to all individuals, regardless of their background.


Under the leadership of CEO Michele Y. Smith, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) continues to evolve as a vibrant cultural institution that celebrates the power and preservation of pop culture. Smith’s passion for the arts, her determination to drive revenue, and her commitment to inclusivity shape her vision for the future of MoPOP. By expanding membership, diversifying donors, and forging partnerships, Smith aims to ensure that everyone has equal access to the transformative power of art and cultural experiences. As pop culture continues to shape society, the preservation of its diverse expressions becomes increasingly important for future generations to appreciate and learn from the rich tapestry of human experiences.

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