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‘The Story of America Through an African-American Lens’

‘The Story of America Through an African-American Lens’

Kathryn Smith Pyle's (ACG '14) article "National Museum of African American History and Culture: ‘The Story of America Through an African-American Lens,’" has been published on Philantopic, a blog of opinion and commentary presented by Philanthropy News Digest.

Read the full article here

On a very cold, very sunny March day, I make my way down the National Mall in Washington, D.C., walking from Union Station to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institution complex. I am going to talk with Rhea L. Combs, NMAAHC’s curator of photography and film, about its media arts program. In 2009, I attended and wrote about an early exhibition organized by the museum, "The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise." The photography show was held at the museum's then-temporary base in the National Museum of American History. NMAAHC moved into its own building on the Mall in September 2016.

As I approach the museum from the south, I am treated to a dazzling view of the museum's facade. I've seen photographs of the building with its three tiers of filigreed metal wrapping all four sides of the glass-walled structure, forming what its architect calls an "outer corona," and the bright sunshine reflecting off the building's surface this morning truly suggests something fiery.

Inside, school groups and other visitors pack the lobby and are lined up on the subterranean floor waiting for their tours to begin. NMAAHC welcomed its millionth visitor in February and is expecting six million by the end of year.

The museum has been the subject of many articles, from its award-winning design (see Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times) to its often challenging and emotionally moving exhibits (Vann R. Newkirk III in The Atlantic). The museum's mission was summed up by founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III in an interview on the PBS Newshour with Gwen Ifill a few days before it opened to the public: "This is the story of America through an African American lens." Appropriate, then, that in this post and the one that follows, I will focus on the museum's photography and film program and the donors who made it possible.

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