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Title: Press release: the creation of a museum
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: Press release: the creation of a museum
Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 2, pp. 6, 1991

PRESS RELEASE: The Creation of a Museum


Advisory Committee Recommends Creation of a National African American Museum at the Smithsonian Institution

The 21-member advisory committee that conducted a one-year African American Institutional Study for the Smithsonian Institution has recommended that the institution establish a National African American Museum, to be located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and administered by the Smithsonian.

The committee's report proposes that the new museum should be established in the Arts and Industries Building at 900 Jefferson Drive S.W. and should be governed by a board of trustees appointed by the board of regents, the Smithsonian's governing body. The committee recommended that 10 of the 19 trustees should be individuals of African descent.

While the exhibitions and research of the proposed new museum would be broad and inclusive, collecting would be initially concentrated in the following areas: art and material culture of African Americans; 20th-century objects relating to blacks in the civil rights and labor movements in the United States; images of African Americans in the media; and works of art by African Americans.

Claudine Brown, the Smithsonian's acting deputy assistant secretary for museums, served as director of the African American Institutional Study.

The advisory committee, which met four times in the past year, was chaired by Mary Schmidt Campbell, New York City commissioner of cultural affairs. A 120-page report was submitted in April to Smithsonian Secretary Robert McC. Adams and to the Smithsonian board of regents for its May 6 meeting.

"The Smithsonian and the nation owe a debt of gratitude to chair Mary Schmidt Campbell and the other members of the advisory committee for a comprehensive analysis of a very complex subject," Secretary Adams said. "Their findings and recommendations deserve our close and sympathetic attention."


The National African American Museum would be dedicated to the collection, preservation, research and exhibition of African American material reflecting the breadth of experiences of black Americans. The museum would take a leadership role in developing a collections data base, which will make African American materials located in museums and collections around the country more accessible to researchers and scholars.

Another important mission of the museum would be education. The museum would forge collaborative relationships with cultural and educational organizations around the world to "promote equity, dignity and access for all persons who seek to learn, grow, preserve and endure."

Collections and research

The report focused on four areas of collections and research: images of African Americans in print and broadcast media; material documenting black history, specifically the civil rights and labor movements; art and material culture documenting the experiences of Africans in the diaspora; and African American art (especially those collections that might be lost to the public sector because of their cost.) Works of art to be collected would include paintings, sculpture, photography, prints and other works on paper and folk arts.

Relationship to other African American museums

The report notes that there are more than 120 museums and organizations currently dedicated to the study and preservation of African American history and culture. In the spirit of collaboration, the National African American Museum should work with the broader museum community, the African American museum community and other Smithsonian museums to improve opportunities for the study of African American history and culture. This includes developing an African American collections data base which would facilitate the research and study of African American art and material culture throughout the country. The report also calls for further discussions regarding the creation of a Smithsonian-maintained facility for the sharing of collections, which would house African American collections from disparate institutions.

The National African American Museum should also serve as a service institution which would support regional exhibitions deserving national recognition because of their scholarship and the importance of their subject matter. This support might include: facilitating publications, providing a venue in the nation's capital and cooperating with publicity and marketing.

How the new museum differs from other Smithsonian museums

The report described the collections and programs relating to African American history and culture now in place in a number of Smithsonian museums and concluded that "each [Smithsonian] museum, including the new African American Museum, will be called upon to tell the American story to the best of its ability being mindful that no people in this country, no matter how cloistered, are unaffected by others."


The 173,000-square-foot Arts and Industries Building, designed in 1878, was selected by the advisory committee for the new museum because of its prime location on the National Mall, between the original Smithsonian Institution Building (the "Castle") and the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. This prime location would encourage visitors and facilitate accessibility. Currently, the Arts and Industries Building houses the Experimental Gallery in one wing and the 1876 Centennial exhibition in the other three wings. The building attracts about a million visitors per year.

The committee also noted that use of the Arts and Industries Building could result in substantial savings over identifying a location on the Mall and building a new museum. "Given the present fiscal climate," the report states, "it would be more advantageous to the Institution and taxpayers if we make better use of an existing facility ... rather than build a new museum."

Lastly, use of the Arts and Industries Building is expedient. Existing gallery exhibits could be removed to make the building available to the new museum. The new museum could open by 1995.


The advisory committee reviewed several models—the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of the American Indian—before recommending a structure that would be appropriate for this new museum. The committee voted unanimously to adopt language similar to that in the legislation that established the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (Public Law 101-185), a new museum that will be constructed on the National Mall later in the decade.

The committee overwhelmingly supported the notion that African Americans should have an authoritative voice on every level of decision-making in the new museum, according to the report. The members of the museum's board of trustees would be selected subject to the approval of the Smithsonian secretary and board of regents.

Role in public education

The report says that the proposed National African American Museum should have a comprehensive educational agenda that will include public programs in the museum itself as well as programs outside the museum with teachers and students. In addition, the educational mission of the museum would be broad enough to include development of curriculum materials for educators with special emphasis on providing services for black students in public schools.

The museum staff would also work with students in colleges and universities who might enter the museum profession in a variety of disciplines. For example, the report noted, the Smithsonian may identify internship and fellowship opportunities, provide career guidance, offer training opportunities and identify mentors currently working in the field.

Establishment of a National Trust

The advisory committee members agreed that there should be a National Trust, to financially support not only the new museum but also other trust members (such as the members of the African American Museums Association). According to Brown, the committee fully endorsed the notion of a National Trust, although there was no consensus on how the trust would be structured and whom it would serve.

In summary, the report states that "the National African American Museum should celebrate the creativity and accomplishments of persons of African descent in their countries of origin and in the United States, and should strive to enhance our understanding of human culture and interaction. In essence, the work of this museum is fundamentally the work of all American museums: to reflect and express the American experience in an inclusive manner. The distinguishing purpose of this institution will not only be to collect objects and documents that have previously been unavailable to the American public, but also to provide African Americans an authoritative institutional voice within the national complex of museums on the mall."

1. from the Smithsonian Institution News, May 6, 1991.

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