Wash­ing­ton’s new­est na­tional mu­seum set to open next year

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL -

WASH­ING­TON — With a bronze metal and glass struc­ture tak­ing shape on the Na­tional Mall, the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion said last week that its new Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture is on track to open in 2016.

Over the past two weeks, work­ers have be­gun in­stalling the bronze-colour pan­els that will form the defin­ing “corona” fa­cade of Wash­ing­ton’s new­est mu­seum. The idea was in­spired by an African head­dress. Ar­chi­tects said it will ap­pear as a glow­ing bronze crown in dif­fer­ent lights.

The de­sign is a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from the mostly clas­si­cal struc­tures of Wash­ing­ton. Mu­seum direc­tor Lon­nie Bunch said the metal lat­tice pan­els were meant to evoke the work of en­slaved crafts­peo­ple and iron­work­ers who cre­ated screens and de­signs popular in New Or­leans and Charleston, S.C.

“So much of the African-Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence is hid­den in plain sight,” Bunch said dur­ing a brief­ing on the mu­seum’s progress. “I thought: Wouldn’t it be pow­er­ful to take this build­ing and in some ways make it a mon­u­ment to all those peo­ple whose work shaped this coun­try, whose work made the coun­try pos­si­ble but whose work is of­ten forgotten.”

Af­ter 10 years of work to de­velop the mu­seum, Bunch said the build­ing has reached a mile­stone as its defin­ing el­e­ments be­come ev­i­dent. The build­ing is 18 months from com­ple­tion. Bunch said he’s determined the mu­seum will open be­fore U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama leaves of­fice so the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent can cut the rib­bon.

The Smith­so­nian has raised $476 mil­lion in public and pri­vate funds. Congress pro­vided half the build­ing funds and money for staffing, and about $200 mil­lion has been raised pri­vately from cor­po­ra­tions, foun­da­tions and in­di­vid­u­als. The Smith­so­nian still must raise as much as $70 mil­lion more to fin­ish the project, Bunch said.

Nu­mer­ous in­di­vid­ual dona­tions of $25 and $50 have shown how im­por­tant the mu­seum is to so many peo­ple, Bunch said. Nearly 82,000 peo­ple have joined the mu­seum as mem­bers to con­trib­ute to the build­ing, rep­re­sent­ing ev­ery state.

The mu­seum has built a col­lec­tion of 40,000 ar­ti­facts, and a staff of 160 is de­vel­op­ing the 11 ma­jor ex­hibits vis­i­tors will find at the open­ing next year. The ex­hibits will trace the his­tory of slav­ery, seg­re­ga­tion, civil rights and African-Amer­i­cans’ achieve­ments in the arts, en­ter­tain­ment, sports, the mil­i­tary and the wider cul­ture.

Bunch said it will be a mu­seum for ev­ery­one to gain a fuller, more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of his­tory.

“The strength of this mu­seum is that it seeks to use African-Amer­i­can cul­ture as a lens to un­der­stand what it means to be an Amer­i­can,” he said. “We’re all shaped by the AfricanAmer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture: http:// nmaahc.si.edu

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