The change was exemplified by such exhibition projects as the Frederick Douglass Years, Lorton Reformatory: Beyond Time, The Rat: Man's Invited Affliction, The Anacostia Story, and the Barnett-Aden Collection. Educational programming focused on bringing a wide array of arts and cultural experiences to local school children and adult audiences. The museum made a strong connection with local school teachers to engage with the museum in program development. Additionally, the museum established a hands-on children’s room and convened a youth advisory council. This work established the museum as a model for community museums and a principal force in the African American museum movement.

Beginning in the 1980s the exhibition program turned to broader national themes in African American history and culture with a focus on preservation of that history. Spearheaded by director John Kinard, this work also served as a platform for his major efforts to advocate for the emerging African American museum movement. Exhibition projects included The Renaissance: Black Arts of the Twenties, Real McCoy: African American Invention and Innovation, and Climbing Jacobs Ladder: The Rise of Black Churches in Eastern American Cities, 1740–1877. The museum established an ongoing program focused on church archives, along with an education program series on the preservation of family history. These efforts included a collection day event that brought hundreds of local citizens and their family heirlooms, works of art, and vintage collectibles together with conservation and content specialists.

The exhibition Speak to My Heart: Communities of Faith and Contemporary African American Life was the first of a series of exhibitions presented by the museum in Smithsonian galleries on the National Mall. This effort was followed by a series of traveling exhibitions featuring African American artists and creators. Public programs featured national figures, such as André Leon Talley and Camille Cosby, and large scale special events including a Carnival Masquerade Ball and the Capital Children's Carnival. The name of the museum was revised to the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture to be inclusive of these efforts.

In 1994, the museum developed the documentation and exhibition project entitled Black Mosaic: Community, Race and Ethnicity Among Black Immigrants in Washington. This groundbreaking exhibition, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2014, revealed the transformation of communities in Washington, DC, impacted by new immigration to the city. From this project educational programming grew to serve broader audiences and fostered unique music programming such as Africa Fête, Musica Latina, and the exhibition and program project Beyond the Reggae Beat.

In 1999, the museum formalized its commitment to local school children by establishing the Museum Academy, a program that continues to provided afterschool and summer programming, utilizing a museum-based curriculum, for 40 children in Washington's Ward 7 and Ward 8 neighborhoods.

Reconnecting to early work focused on community issues and local history, recent projects have included documentation, exhibitions and public programs focused on community arts and creativity; the impact of school bands in the District of Columbia; the development of Washington, DC neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River and a multiyear initiative documenting citizen action to reclaim urban waterways, in particular the Anacostia River. Most of these projects include extensive community engagement, photographic documentation, collection efforts, and extensive oral history documentation. Much of this work falls under the museum's Community Documentation Initiative. In 2006 the museum's name was changed to Anacostia Community Museum, reflecting a renewed commitment to examining issues of impact to contemporary urban communities.

Throughout its storied history of over 50 years, the museum has remained relevant, developing documentation projects, exhibitions, and programs which speak to the concerns, issues, and triumphs of communities and which tell the extraordinary stories of everyday people.

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