Throughout its history, the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum have presented exhibitions that have reflected the bustling and Afrocentric area where the building stands.
African-American history, its art and exhibits that tell the story of Black life have been showcased, including the darkness of slavery, the uplifting civil rights movement and the creativity of minorities in music and pop culture.
Today, as the museum continues its 50th anniversary celebration, officials said they’re looking forward to the next half-century with similar vigor.
“For the last 50 years the museum has served as the front stoop of the community. We’ve encouraged important discussions here through our public programs and tackled tough topics in our exhibits,” said Amy Kehs, a museum spokesperson. “Our newest exhibit, ‘Your Community. Your Story’ is like our love letter back to the community. It takes a look back at all that we have done together.”
Earlier, the museum held its 50th anniversary Community Block Party in which Kehs said a number of individuals arrived enthusiastic and celebratory.
“Fifty years ago we began as a bold experiment by our founding director, John Kinard, who wanted the community to walk into our museum and see themselves in the exhibits and I think that is the role that we have played,” Kehs said. “We have used the stories of individuals and how they interact with their communities as a catalyst to power our research, collection, exhibitions, programs and education and civic outreach. We made museums familiar and tangible to our community.”
When it opened, the Anacostia Community Museum reportedly was described as an experimental storefront to serve as an outreach opportunity to bring more African-Americans to the National Mall to visit other Smithsonian museums.
In 1967, the Smithsonian acquired the Carver Theater in Anacostia and appointed Kinard as director of the Anacostia museum.
Kinard’s outreach to the community included a special concentration on young African-Americans, whom he engaged in assisting in the museum’s creation.
On Sept. 15, 1967, the Anacostia Community Museum opened.
“We are a museum of the people, by the people and for the people,” Kehs said, noting that all communities remain welcome as museum officials try to tell the stories of all peoples through its exhibits and public programs.
“For example, you could come to the museum and see the stories of immigrants in our current exhibit, ‘Gateways,’ or you could stop by one of Derek Thomas’ community garden workshops,” Kehs said.
“We have teen summits, musical programs and artist studio tours. It is an intimate experience that will change the way you view museums,” she said, adding that there’s something for everyone at the museum.
The anniversary counts as an opportunity for the museum to renew its mission and focus, and become a cultural center that convenes conversations about community life in a contemporary society, museum officials said in a news release.
These conversations will address topics of importance to local communities in the D.C. area and the rest of the nation, such as politics, economic livelihood, urban ecology, religion, immigration and cultural and spiritual fulfillment.
The museum also will inspire and promote civic engagement through its exhibitions and programming, which will feature community members sharing stories that highlight the opportunities and challenges of life in the 21st century, officials said.
“We want to bring together diverse people and perspectives to learn from, uplift and empower one another in order to create a more tolerant, unified metropolitan community,” said Lori D. Yarrish, the museum’s acting director.
As for what to expect over the next 50 years?
Kehs said the Smithsonian remains dedicated to recommitting to the Anacostia community and the D.C. region at large.
“Our programs and exhibitions will continue to reflect local stories that resonate well beyond the district,” she said. “We will use technology to create exciting visitor experiences and solicit community input as we explore new ways to share information. We have some really exciting and innovative projects in the works and we can’t wait to share them with the communities of D.C.”