ONE YEAR AFTER ITS LONG-AWAITED DEBUT, overwhelming interest in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) hasn’t waned. The museum dedicated to the contributions and experiences of black Americans opened Sept. 24, 2016, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Often referred to as the “Blacksonian,” the museum turns one on Sunday. To mark its first anniversary, two days of special events are planned this weekend.
Worldwide interest in the museum has been both gratifying and stunning to the institution’s officials. Over the past 12 months, nearly 3 million people, about 8,000 a day, have visited, according to NMAAHC.
“Most museums have an initial period of excitement, and then it dies down and it becomes routine. We haven’t reached that point yet,” John Franklin, of the museum’s Office of External Affairs, told local radio station WTOP.
“Most museums have an initial period of excitement, and then it dies down and it becomes routine. We haven’t reached that point yet.”
The museum opened with great fanfare. President Barack Obama spoke at the dedication ceremony. Soon after, the public got its first glimpse inside the David Adjaye-designed museum that serves as both a monument and a memorial, exploring slavery, civil rights, politics, community, arts and culture. More than 3,000 artifacts are on display—a fraction of the nearly 40,000 in the museum’s collection.
A geometric abstract painting by William T. Williams opens the visual art gallery, where early, modern and contemporary works by artists such as Ed Clark, Robert S. Duncanson, Felrath Hines, Whitfield Lovell, Archibald Motley, Jefferson Pinder, Betye Saar, Lorna Simpson, Alma Thomas, and Kara Walker, are on view. In between the exhibitions there is some good food to be had, too. Sweet Home Cafe, the museum restaurant, received a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2017.
Like all the other Smithsonian museums, admission to NMAAHC is free, but to accommodate visitors and prevent overcrowding timed passes are required for entry. The first Wednesday of every month a new batch of advance passes is made available. In October, passes will be released for visiting the African American museum in January.
TOP IMAGE: Photo by Alan Karchmer | Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, NMAAHC Architectural Photography
Thanking its inaugural year visitors, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is celebrating its first anniversary Sept. 23-24, 2017. | Video by NMAAHC
But this weekend, no passes are required. Sept. 23-24, two Community Days will celebrate the museum’s first year. Everyone is invited to “celebrate the gifts of history, community and culture that together make the African American journey, truly an American story. …Community Days will highlight different aspects of African American history and culture through music, dance, storytelling, theater, and hands-on activities.”
There will be garden tours of the museum grounds and a concert by Sweet Honey in the Rock concludes the celebration on Sunday. All of the festivities take place on the grounds surrounding NMAAHC are free and open to the public. (Tickets are still required to enter the museum.)
The anniversary weekend coincides with Museum Day Live! Hosted by Smithsonian Magazine, the “annual celebration of boundless curiosity” promotes learning and education by offering free admission and special programming at more than 1,300 museums and cultural institutions across the country.
Many local African American museums affiliated with NMAAHC, such as the California African American Museum (Los Angeles), Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (Detroit), African American Museum in Philadelphia, and Reginal F. Lewis Museum (Baltimore), are participating in Museum Day Live!
Museums presenting compelling contemporary art exhibitions have signed up, too. Among them, MCA Chicago, where “Chicago Works: Amanda Williams” is on view; Montclair Art Museum where “Philemona Williamson: Metaphorical Narratives” is featured; and MOCA Georgia, where “WAP: Paul Stephen Benjamin” opens today. Downloadable tickets and a list of participating venues is available here.
Next week the milestones continue. NMAAHC is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School with a panel discussion. “Reflections of the Little Rock Nine, 1957-2017” will feature some of the courageous students who were the first African Americans to attend the Arkansas public high school. CT
The National Museum of African American History and Culture has been publishing books since before the museum officially opened. Double Exposure, a multi-volume series, features photography from the museum’s collection. Coinciding with the museum’s opening, two books commemorate the groundbreaking institution: National Museum of African American History and Culture: A Souvenir Book and Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture. For young people, consider “How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.”