The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a museum that seeks to understand American history through the lens of the African American experience. The only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture, it was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 37,000 objects and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
The NMAAHC is a public institution open to all, where anyone is welcome to participate, collaborate, and learn more about African American history and culture. In the words of Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the Museum, “there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a Smithsonian Institution museum established in December 2003. The museum’s building, designed by David Adjaye, is on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. It has close to 37,000 objects in its collection related to such subjects as community, family, the visual and performing arts, religion, civil rights, slavery, and segregation.
Early efforts to establish a federally owned museum featuring African-American history and culture can be traced to 1915, although the modern push for such an organization did not begin until the 1970s. After years of little success, a much more serious legislative push began in 1988 that led to authorization of the museum in 2003. A site was selected in 2006. The museum opened September 24, 2016, in a ceremony led by U.S. President Barack Obama.
In 2007, the NMAAHC became the first major museum to open on the Web before completing a physical structure. The web site included the museum’s first exhibit, mounted in New York City. The site was also designed to encourage collaboration between scholars and the public. The main feature of the web-based initiative was the Memory Book application, which allowed individuals to contribute to the web site pictures, a story, or an audio application to spotlight unique experiences in African-American culture.
In January 2012, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History partnered with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (which owns Jefferson’s home, Monticello) to create a major new exhibit, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.” The exhibition opened on January 12, 2012, at the National Museum of American History, and closed on October 14, 2012. The exhibit received nationwide attention, garnering articles from sources such as the Associated Press, Huffington Post, National Public Radio, the New York Times, United Press International, USA Today, and the Washington Post. The 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) exhibit was created by Rex Ellis (an associate director of the NMAAHC) and Elizabeth Chew (a curator at Monticello). It was accompanied by a companion book, ‘Those Who Labor for My Happiness’: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, by Lucia Stanton. NMAAHC director Lonnie Bunch III said that the exhibit explored one way in which slavery might be presented at the National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens in 2015.
“Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello” also received attention for the striking statue of Jefferson that graced the exhibit entrance. The Smithsonian used a Minolta 3D scanner to create a digital image of a life-size bronze statue of Jefferson which is located at Monticello. RedEye on Demand (a subsidiary of Stratasys) used a fused deposition modeling printer, which laid down tiny layers of molten plastic to slowly build the statue. The statue was “printed” in four sections, which were then put together, detailed, and painted. Smithsonian officials were so pleased with the process that they began laying plans use it to laser image and 3D print a vast number of items in their collection, which they could then share inexpensively with the rest of the world.
The Smithsonian Institution listed the number of items in the museum collection in 2012 as either more than 18,000 pieces or more than 25,000 pieces. CBS News reported in May 2015 that the collection size had grown to 33,000 objects. About 3,500 items are on display to the public.
Items obtained by the museum initially were received, conserved, and stored at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland. Dozens of permanent curatorial staff and temporary contractors accessed the items, repaired them, and conserved them in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. Renée Anderson, the NMAAHC’s head of collections, oversaw the effort. After artifacts were selected for display, graphics and labels for each item were manufactured. Display cases for each item were also purchased, and exhibiting mounts or specially designed cases handcrafted for particularly fragile, important, or unusually sized objects. Museum officials said all artifacts and displays will be moved into the new museum in the summer of 2016, along with the museum’s 175 full-time employees.