The Smithsonian’s African American History Museum Is Inspiring Other DC Exhibits on Black America

The Smithsonian’s African American History Museum Is Inspiring Other DC Exhibits on Black America
One of the photos in the National Museum of American History's exhibit on the everyday life of African Americans. From the NMAH Archives Center; Fournet Drugstore Collection.

As the much-anticipated opening of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture approaches, other museums and galleries are using the fanfare to showcase the cultural legacies of African Americans.

If you can’t make it in to the museum right away (here’s a guide to snagging tickets), consider catching these exhibitions in the meantime.

The Hirshhorn
700 Independence Ave SW

On September 21, Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates is holding a public discussion with the African American Museum’s architect, David Adjaye. Prior to the talk, Gates will debut the first part of a four-part performance series called “Processions,” which takes on subjects of art and race. At the first show, “Runners,” students from Howard University’s track team will run around circular floors of the Hirshhorn while a group of black monks sings gospel hymns. The performance starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by the talk at 6:30 p.m.

“This is not just about the National Museum, Gates says. “It becomes an opportunity for us all to reflect on and celebrate the great contributions…of black folks.”

American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center
4400 Massachusetts Ave NW

There are currently two exhibitions focused on black America at American University’s museum. “It Takes a Nation” reflects on the impact of the Black Panther movement with paintings, video art, and sculptures by local artists. The pieces in the second exhibit, “Silos,” comment on the marginalization of African American artists. “Even though there’s the National Museum of African American History and Art, it really is only one museum,” says museum director Jack Rasmussen. “There is so much more that needs to be done in the city and around the country.” Both exhibits close on October 23.

The Phillips Collection
1600 21st St., NW

The Phillips Collection is uniting the works in renowned African American painter Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series,” a collection of 60 panels depicting the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between the world wars. The exhibition, “People on the Move: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series,” opens October 8 and continues through January 8.

National Museum of American History
14th Street and Constitution Ave., NW

The Smithsonian’s American History museum is displaying more than 20 old photographs from the everyday life of African Americans from the 1940s through the 1970s in its exhibition “Celebration: Snapshots of African American Communities” from September 9 to December 7. There’s an assortment of black-and-white and hand-tinted photos documenting everything from weddings and graduations to civil rights protests.

The Anacostia Community Museum
1901 Fort Place., SE

Don’t miss a new restaurant again: Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.

The Smithsonian museum in Anacostia is extending one of its exhibits for the crowds of people coming in for the African American museum. Called “Artists from the Spiral Collective,” the exhibit looks at the work from an alliance of New York artists who met weekly to discuss their art, politics, and civil rights from 1963 to 1965. It includes works from Hale Woodruff, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and more before and after their time in the Spiral Collective. The exhibit is open until September 25.

National Museum of African Art
950 Independence Avenue, SW

The National Museum of African Art is rolling out six events timed to the African American museum opening from September 17 to 30:

    1. Soul Power, a documentary about a 1974 soul music festival in Zaire.
    2. “I Am Africa” docent tours, an exploration of African art that can teach you about you and your community.
    3. Touch Ghanian kente cloth and learn about its connection to African American identity.
    4. African American folktales and their African roots.
    5. Discussion about African American entrepreneurship.
    6. Am I: Too African to Be American or Too American to Be African, a film interviewing young African women living in America and West Africa.

African American Civil War Museum
1925 Vermont Ave NW

This museum off of U Street is going all out during the week of the African American museum opening, hosting concerts, book signings, special exhibits and church services. On the day of the opening ceremony on September 24, which President Obama will speak at, the museum is having “watch parties” at several churches in the area. See the entire list of events here.


Questions or comments? You can reach us on Twitter, via e-mail, or by contacting the author directly:
Web producer/writer

Greta started as an editorial fellow in January 2016 and joined as a full-time staff member that August. She now works as a web producer and writer. She was previously an intern at Slate and National Geographic and graduated from the University of Missouri’s Journalism School. She lives in Adams Morgan.