Smithsonian Anacostia Museum

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Mission and History

History, Mission, and Goals

The mission of the Anacostia Community Museum is to challenge perceptions, broaden perspectives, generate new knowledge, and deepen understanding about the ever-changing concepts and realities of ‘community’ while maintaining its strong ties to Anacostia and the D.C. Metropolitan region. Founded on September 15, 1967, ACM has been a leader in providing a myriad of formal programs including exhibitions, research, tours, lectures, performances, and demonstrations, the Museum has afforded unique learning opportunities through its Museum Academy Program, which offers after-school and summer cultural enrichment programs, career awareness days, and internship components for children in the District of Columbia. ACM is committed to providing the catalysts for critical thought about issues that impact people; to further developing collections, exhibitions, programs, and research that examine the development of communities and provide provocative insights on future possibilities; to employing cutting-edge approaches in the museum and through outreach activities to present social and cultural issues that impact communities; and to be the convener of stakeholders and collaborations around shared community issues.

Current Programs, Activities, and Accomplishments
ACM embodies a practice of research and programming excellence, with 19 professional staff, 25 volunteers, and 5 interns. Traditionally, a major goal of the Museum has been to provide visitors with material evidence of the African American experience from a community perspective, while underscoring the idea that the things that make people distinctly different are also the things that make us all universally the same. This concept has been expanded to reflect the Museum’s new mission and vision. To achieve this, the Museum created a first-of-its kind public education initiative designed to teach the fundamentals of collecting and preservation to individuals and special interest groups. Additionally, the Museum provides an array of programs for youth and families.

The Museum’s changing exhibition schedule explores themes in family and community history. Unique to this institution is the inclusion of community perspectives in the exhibition process and content. The program is directed by staff historians and curators and includes, by invitation, selected guest curators who provide innovative approaches and unique content. The program is mission-driven and supports collections development activities. Most recently, the Museum presented its 40th anniversary exhibition, East of the River: Continuity and Change. The current exhibit Jubilee: African American Celebration, highlights three centuries of African American celebrations, from the obsolete to the contemporary. Upcoming exhibitions include The African Presence in Mexico; Urban Rivers: Currents and Conditions (working title); and Across the Counter: Korean American Merchants in America’s Urban Centers (working title).

The permanent collection is comprised of artifacts, photographs, archival documents, media, and art objects that document family and community locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Collections include the Griffith Family Collection (documenting three generations of women in Washington, DC); the Lillian Evans-Tibbs Collection (recording the life of local opera singer and teacher of national and international acclaim); and the Lorenzo Dow Turner Collection (featuring community life in South Carolina, Brazil, and West Africa). Fine art holdings include the work of folk artists Leslie Payne and Charles Smith, plus works by James Wells, James Porter, John Robinson, Sam Gilliam, Nelson Stevens, and Benny Andrews.

Public programs aim to broaden the understanding and appreciation of family and community history through an engaging and dynamic series of lectures, performances, screenings, hands-on activities, and special events for people of all ages. The Museum produces interpretative materials including exhibition guides, activity kits, and subject-specific curricula.

Research at ACM promotes the preservation of family and community history through education, advocacy, and documentation. Broad in scope, some current projects include the documentation of the community of Sperryville, Virginia from the 1850s until 1960; the history of the Plummer Family of Prince Georges County, Maryland, based on the patriarch’s 1841 diary; the preservation efforts of the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia; and a collaborative project documenting African-based religious institutions in Bahia, Brazil.

The Museum serves as a training ground for individuals across the county in undergraduate and postgraduate programs and serves as a model for small and mid-size community museums. ACM shares its years of expertise in community-based museology through consulting, presentations, and publications. In development is a speaker’s bureau, a seminar series on participatory museology, and establishing a network of community-based museums and cultural institutions. A primary long-term outcome will be the creation of a professional network for the discussion of best practices, issues, and concerns of the field. The Museum also provides on-going seminar-style training programs to provide information on topics such as starting an archive, photographic/document preservation, and oral histories.

ACM is the only Smithsonian museum to provide an ongoing educational component that works with the same group of children throughout the school year and summer months. The Museum Academy is ACM’s multi-tiered educational program, offering cultural programming for children. The After-school and Summer Academies for children in grades three through five are designed to foster positive development through heritage discovery, documentation, and creative expression based on knowledge of community history. Career Day programs introduce youth to Museum work and its variety of careers, from horticulture to the care of collections and conservation to museum administration. The Young Museum Career Professionals program offers eight-week paid internships for high school students who work on specific projects with professional staff. The Teacher Training Institute provides curriculum assistance and instructional strategies to local educators. Under development is a Junior Docent component that would involve youth ages 13–19 in training centered on exhibitions, collections, and research. In addition to teacher workshops on collection-centered curriculum development, other resources for educators, students, and researchers are made available through the Museum’s web-based On-Line Academy, featuring virtual lectures, information on items in the Museum’s collection, and background on past and current exhibitions.

ACM has been continually recognized for its contributions and impact on Anacostia and the DC Metropolitan region. ACM will carry out the Smithsonian’s goal to increase public engagement through exhibitions, public programs, and collections using resources that are inclusive of a broad range of communities. The Museum will continue to work with community partners to document and preserve heritage, present interpretative exhibitions, develop educational activities and publications, and identify and collect significant material culture.