Friday, 21 October 2016

THERE'S A NEW KID ON THE BLOCK AT THE SMITHSONIAN: WELCOME NMAAHC


AFRICAN CANADIAN HISTORY

BY: KENDRA CAMPBELL

View from outside NMAAHC on Opening Day Photo: Kendra Campbell
There's a new kid on the block at the Smithsonian.  

As an emerging museum professional and as a black woman I relished the opportunity to be part of the massive welcome wagon that celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C. last month. 

If you haven’t already planned your trip to NMAAHC to introduce yourself, here’s why you should:

This kid has a house full of really neat stuff.  The NMAAHC collection is as diverse as it is comprehensive. The 37 000 item collection includes objects such as a 19th century slave cabin from South Carolina, a Jim Crow era railroad passenger car as well as shards of glass from the 16th Street Baptist church. Each object demonstrates the dynamism of the Black experience in America. The collection is like nothing I have seen before, and yet I was most impressed by the way NMAAHC collaborated with other museums, private collectors and community members in a nationwide collecting campaign, "Save Our African American Treasures." This initiative is truly indicative of the kind of museum NMAAHC is and what it aims to do. 

This kid tells amazing stories, including some you probably haven’t heard before.
 Not only has NMAAHC brought stories often relegated to the periphery and placed them in the centre, they have also interpreted them in a way that is accessible and inclusive.  

Exploring the Neighbourhood Record Store in the Musical Crossroads exhibit Photo: Kendra Campbell
My absolute favourite exhibition has to be the Lunch Counter interactive in the Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom exhibit. Adjacent to a Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in stool is a large interactive counter. Visitors are invited to sit and learn about African-Americans resistance and the struggle for full citizenship. Entering this space and seeing this powerful image of a busy lunch counter and hearing the dialogue was a highlight of my visit.  A seat at the table, indeed.
Exploring a Tradition of Activism in the Making the Way Out of No Way Exhibit Photo : Kendra Campbell
This kid is a really great cook. The entire visitor experience, including the eats, is steeped in Black history. The NMAAHC restaurant, Sweet Home Café, provides an incredible dining experience for visitors.  The café contains four stations each representing a different geographic area of African American culture. Come hungry! 

This kid is excited to meet you! Much has been said about the historical significance of this museum for all Americans. I would also add that this museum is important to Canadians. The two national narratives are connected and further enrich our understanding of the past. There is some truly innovative and important work going on at NMAAHC and as of September 24, 2016 the invitation is open. Won’t you say hello?

No comments:

Post a Comment