New National African-American Museum Poses Issues for Smaller Museums Nationwide

There are over 300 museums nationwide dedicated to African-American history, art, and culture, but one in particular is garnering the most attention—and reactions are mixed.

By Ryan Velez

There are over 300 museums nationwide dedicated to African-American history, art, and culture, but one in particular is garnering the most attention—and reactions are mixed. The Washington Post recently posted an article about the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C., opening in the fall of 2016.

While many are happy to see black culture and history displayed so prominently, this is causing potential issues for several smaller museums around the country, who may see donations of money and historical items given to this larger, more popular institution as opposed to their local equivalent. The combination of a national profile as well as the Smithsonian name makes for a combination that is difficult for potential donors to resist.

Although there may be certain difficulties ahead for these smaller regional and local museums, many of the people in charge of them hold no ill will towards their new national counterpart. Leslie Guy, chief curator at the DuSable in Chicago, the nation’s oldest African-American museum, said that “we look at the national museum as our champion on a national level.”

The idea is that with such a huge national institution dedicated to African-Americans, their smaller museums will benefit from residual interest on some of the history and themes covered. In some ways, they already have. The Washington Post reports that as the NMAAHC prepares to open, other museums are enjoying conference funding, training workshops, and internships in larger numbers.

While NMAAHC will certainly enjoy the lion’s share of donations as many people seek to be a part of history, in some ways, it will be just another museum. Samuel Black, president of the Association of African American Museums, explains that despite its budget and reach, it will enjoy no special treatment. The association provides a way for the various different museums across America to collaborate on everything, from education to exhibitions.

“We share things we normally share,” explained Black when speaking about the national museum and its relationships with the smaller ones. “It’s not so much a competition kind of thing. They’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well work with them.” The Smithsonian museum has raised $252 million of its $270 million goal, including gifts from companies like American Express, Target, and Caterpillar. It is expected to attract several million visitors a year after the $540 million building is opened. Source

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