The Smithsonian’s African American Museum: Stunning Views, Grand Scale

Peggy McGlone, News Observer, May 15, 2016

A dream for 100 years, the National Museum of African American History and Culture promises to become an instant favorite when it opens Sept. 24, its soaring spaces and magical views of the Mall a fitting setting for its tale of African-American history and achievement.

Museum officials offered a sneak peek last week at the 400,000-square-foot museum, the 19th of the Smithsonian Institution, that’s next to the Washington Monument. President Obama is expected to cut the ribbon on the dramatic space, which features layers of galleries focused on slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement as well as music, entertainment, sports and politics.

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Museum staffers must install 3,000 artifacts–as well as accompanying videos, photos and wall text–that will be on view in 11 inaugural exhibitions. Staff must be moved in, the 400-seat cafeteria brought on line, and metal detectors must be installed at the two entrances.

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The architects, curators and designers worked collaboratively to create the museum’s inspiring interior.

“What we wanted was spaces with a lot of dramatic viewpoints,” said exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum.

The familiar bronze-clad structure on Constitution Avenue represents only about a third of the museum’s total space, Yetter said. After entering the central court, visitors will be encouraged to take an elevator 40 feet underground, where the journey begins with the global slave trade. A series of ramps will take visitors through time and space, through slavery, segregation and the civil rights era.

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The $540 million project was funded through a partnership with Congress, which provided half the money, or $270 million. The other half is being raised through private contributions; officials are within a few million dollars of that goal.

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