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About the Museums
About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was created in 2003 by an Act of Congress, establishing it as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Board of Regents, the governing body of the Institution, voted in January 2006 to build the museum on a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets N.W. This site is between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The new museum, the Smithsonian's nineteenth, will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture. It is expected to open in 2015.
The museum is building a collection designed to illustrate the major periods of African American history, beginning with the origins in Africa and continuing through slavery, reconstruction, the civil rights era, the Harlem Renaissance and into the twenty-first century. Special emphasis is placed on military history, popular culture, and the full spectrum of the arts.
Highlights include the following:
- Harriet Tubman collection (39 objects) including her hymnal; lace shawl, given to her by England's Queen Victoria; and family photographs from her funeral
- Segregated Railway car, about 1922
- Collection of nineteenth-century gaguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes and cartes-de-visite
- Black Fashion Museum Collection (approximately 1,000 items)
- H. C. Anderson photographs (5,000 images, negatives and studio artifacts from civil rights-era Mississippi)
- Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal
- Works of art by Charles Alston, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, and Lorna Simpson
The museum has its own gallery in the National Museum of American History. Its first exhibition there, The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise, opened to the public January 30 year? with more than one hundred portraits and other photographs of African Americans taken by the Scurlocks beginning in 1911 and continuing until 1994. Among the portraits are photos of Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington, Ralph Bunche, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Muhammad Ali.
In May 2007, the museum opened its inaugural exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York in a unique collaboration with that museum and the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, from whose collection the exhibition images were drawn. The exhibition, Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Photographs, is on a fifteen-city national tour through 2012.
The third exhibition organized by the museum opened in the NMAAHC Gallery April 2010. Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment, will make national tour stops in a number of U.S. cities including New York and Detroit.
Education and Research
Save Our African American Treasures: A National Collections Initiative of Discovery and Preservation is one of the museum's key programs. In this series of daylong workshops, participants work with conservation specialists and historians to learn to identify and preserve items of historical value ranging from photographs and jewelry to military uniforms and textiles. Instruction is offered through hands-on activities, audio-visual presentations and a thirty-page guide book developed by the museum. Launched in Chicago in January 2008, Treasures events have been held in cities around the country, including Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; Los Angeles; and Washington, D.C.
Through collaboration with IBM, the museum in September 2007 launched the first phase of the Museum on the Web which offers interactive programs and educational resources. A prominent feature is the Memory Book, which allows site visitors to share family stories, photographs, and intergenerational conversations.
About the Museum Design and Construction
In April, 2009, a design competition jury chaired by NMAAHC Director Lonnie G. Bunch III selected the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup as the museum's architectural and engineering team. The team was one of six invited to submit design concepts for review by the ten-member jury. It consists of four firms brought together for this unique project—The Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroup. The Freelon Group will be the architect of record and Philip G. Freelon, FAIA, will serve as the design guarantor, making sure the design reflects the values and priorities of the museum and the Smithsonian. The Ghanaian-born architect David Adjaye, with offices in Berlin, London, and New York, will be the lead designer.
Shaped in part by the findings of an eighteen-month study to identify the various needs of the museum—from exhibition space, operations and technology, to acoustics, fire protection and security—the design is expected to take up to three years with construction to begin in 2012. The museum is scheduled to open in 2015 at an estimated cost of $500 million, with 50 percent of the total to be covered by Congress.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation's first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience. The collection captures the aspirations, character and imagination of the American people throughout three centuries. The American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal key aspects of America's rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. More than 7,000 artists are represented in the collection, including major masters, such as John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Helen Frankenthaler, Christo, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Lee Friedlander, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear, and Robert Rauschenberg.
The Museum has been a leader in identifying significant aspects of American visual culture and actively collecting and exhibiting works of art before many other major public collections. American Art has the largest collection of New Deal art and the finest collections of contemporary craft, American impressionist paintings, and masterpieces from the Gilded Age. Other pioneering collections include historic and contemporary folk art, work by African American and Latino artists, photography from its origins in the nineteenth century to contemporary works, images of western expansion, and realist art from the first half of the twentieth century. In recent years, the Museum has focused on strengthening its contemporary art collection through acquisitions and by commissioning new artworks.
A recent renovation (2000-2006) of the Museum's historic main building expanded the permanent collection galleries and created innovative new public spaces. The Luce Foundation Center for American Art, the first visible art storage and study center in Washington, allows visitors to browse more than 3,300 works from the collection. It adjoins the Lunder Conservation Center, which is shared with the National Portrait Gallery, the first art conservation facility to allow the public permanent behind-the-scenes views of the preservation work of museums.
In addition to a robust exhibition program in Washington, D.C., the Museum maintains a highly regarded traveling exhibition program. It has circulated hundreds of exhibitions since the program was established in 1951. From 2000 to 2005, museum staff have organized 14 exhibitions of more than 1,000 major artworks from American Art's permanent collection that traveled to 105 venues across the United States. More than 2.5 million visitors saw these exhibitions. The Museum has several major exhibitions touring the United States.
The American Art Museum is a leader in providing electronic resources to schools and the public through its national education program. We offer an array of interactive activities online featuring rich media assets that can easily be used by anyone, as well as Artful Connections, real-time video conference tours to classrooms. Museum staff maintain seven online research databases with more than 500,000 records, including the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture that document more than 400,000 artworks in public and private collections worldwide. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers contact the Museum directly for assistance, and nearly 6 million virtual visitors from across the globe use the database resources available online. Save Outdoor Sculpture, a joint project between the Museum and Heritage Preservation, is dedicated to the documentation and preservation of outdoor sculpture.
American Art staff produce a series of three podcasts, also available through iTunes, which feature voices of artists, curators, museum staff, visiting lecturers and students, as well as the occasional soundtrack. In 2005, the Museum debuted Eye Level, the first blog at the Smithsonian, which has more than 7,000 readers each month. In 2008, American Art was the first museum in the world to host an alternate reality game, Ghosts of a Chance, which offered a new way of engaging with the collection in its Luce Foundation Center.
This education program has been made possible by funding from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.