I read your article “Case History” (2/6) with great interest. Before I offer some comments on it, please allow me this opportunity to clarify an error. Your cover depicted the Museum of African-American History as an empty box. While I understand the intent of the graphic, nothing could be further from the truth: The Museum of African American History is a distinct and viable museum located in Detroit, Mich. By virtue of our size and reputation, we serve as a national institution.
As the second oldest African-American museum in the nation, we have a rich heritage of community, corporate, and civic support. Over the 32 years of our existence, we have provided program and exhibitions to audiences of all ages and all walks of life. I’m afraid the empty case in which our name was displayed is far from an accurate picture of our vibrant institution.
In April 1997, we opened in a new facility of 120,000 square feet, built at a cost of $41.25 million. Our new structure represents the best of public-private partnerships. While we are a private nonprofit organization, our facility is the result of commitment from our city’s leaders and its residents. Bond proposals that received overwhelming support financed the construction. Additional funds were committed through the office of the mayor during the terms of the late Coleman A. Young and the Honorable Dennis W. Archer. We are now the largest museum of our kind in the world. Our exhibitions and programs resonate with the highest quality and service to educate our audiences about our history and about the Africanness of America.
There are over 8,000 museums in the United States. There are approximately 150 African-American museums. Only eight of those have budgets of $500,000 or more, and only five are in facilities built specifically for the purposes of housing a museum. For years, African-American museums have suffered from lack of support. The culprits in that story are too numerous to name. At fault, too, are those who see our museums as political pingpong balls and vehicles for venting racial angst. The important lesson to be learned if communitiesincluding government, corporate, and private sectorspull together is that you can build quality institutions that tell the story of African-Americans.
This article should be a wake-up call for the District, the Smithsonian, and those statesmen inside the Beltway who have African-American institutions in their respective hometowns to get busy. Our story is evidence that you can do itif you put your money where your mouth is. Enough with the finger-pointing and diagnostics. Get to work!
Museum of African American History