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The Art of Reinvention, A Metaphor for African American Museums

By John Fleming

African American museum staff have always had to reinvent the way they operate to create institutions, exhibitions, collections, and programming.  The reasons why they have had to rethink their approaches to various challenges of building and operating a museum stem from such complex issues as lack of a coherent collection and trained staff; inadequate financial resources from private to public funding; and having to constantly deal with institutional racism.  This article shows how reinvention can be a creative way to overcome these challenges.

The AmericanMuseumas “Active Instrument for Social Change”

By John S. Welch

Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, accusations of exclusion and elitism were lodged against mainstream museums by people of color.  Community activists living and working in the nation’s major cities questioned the social relevance of the leading museums and their exhibitions.  However, some major museums like the Metropolitan of Art inNew York, developed outreach programs to become “active instruments for social change.”  

 In the Care of the Colossus

African American Collections within Major Museums

By Valerie J. Mercer

A unique feature of the newly re-designed and expanded Detroit Institute of Arts is the space devoted to African American art- five galleries!  The Detroit Institute of Arts is the only mainstream fine arts museum that has a curatorial department dedicated to African American art.

 The Words behind the Pictures

By Jeffreen M. Hayes

The oral tradition of our ancestors is a valuable, but often overlooked, information-gathering resource for curators, registrars and museum educators.  Information directly from the artist can provide greater insight than a second-party account.

Stacks of Plaques and Bundles of Ebony Magazine

Redefining the CollectionMission

By Charles E. Bethea

At a time when much of African American history was omitted from museums, curricula, mass media and other public discourse, and not considered worthy of documentation, the African American museum became the repository of all things black.  However, this opened acquisitions policy resulted in museums acquiring objects that were not in the long run museum quality and/or relevant to their collecting mission.  In this article, Bethea discusses what to keep and what to de-accession.  

 The 15-Year Struggle

Acquiring Collections and Credentials

By Wayne Coleman and Angela Fisher Hall

Overcoming a number of obstacles in its formative period, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute developed an archive of national importance and is one of only two African American museums to gain accreditation.

Strategic Collaborations

A “Hambone” for the 21st Century

By Christina Draper

Just as the hambone was a resource for families during slavery-being passed from household to household, today, African American museums use the “hambone” sharing technique and are resources to one another. 

Star Search

TheStudioMuseuminHarlem’s Air Program

By Cherilyn “Liv” Wright

The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Artists-in Residence (AIR) program- the oldest of the institution’s programs-supports rising African American artists and artists of African descent from across the globe.

Lasting Impressions: African American Conservators

By Mary Lou Hultgren

This article offers the first overview of African Americans in the profession of museum conservation during the past half a century, a time when a more formalized and scientific approach to the field of preservation was evolving.

Conservation Made Simple

By Valinda S. Carroll

No matter the size and scope of the collection, the works of art and historic artifacts therein benefit from a systematic approach to preservation.  The single most important conservation tool is awareness.

The “White Glove Gang” to the rescue

By Nicole Gilpin Hood and Elizabeth Girard

One of the critical problems facing smaller museums is that of collections management and care.  Frequently, small museums have neither adequate staff nor sufficient financial resources to manage collections properly—a problem that escalates as collections are literally stashed away and forgotten.

 Odyssey of the Troglodyte or There is No Place Like Home

By Jeffrey Bruce

 Curator Jeff Bruce has dealt with all manner of storage challenges: storing masterworks in the attic of an ancient building overrun with water bugs and other multi-legged creatures, housing fine art in donated spaces in offices buildings, moving collections from one temporary storage area to another and converting space into makeshift storage facilities. 

Balancing Dual Roles Takes a “Girl of the Wind”

By Marcus Smith

Years ago John Biggers painted a portrait of 38-year-old Alvia Wardlaw and titled it, Girl of the Wind.”  At the time, Wardlaw saw little resemblance to herself in the portrait and wondered what Biggers had in mind.  Today, however, considering Wardlaw’s frequent dashes between the two museums that she serves, the “girl of the wind” moniker is right on the mark. 

 Harry Robinison, Jr., 34 Years of Museum Leadership

By Eric Key and Regenia Perry

Harry Robinson was a leader in the African Americans museums movement in the 1970s.  He went on to build an institution, sustain it with grass roots fundraising and develop a leading collection of African American folk art. 

 Money Makes a Difference

By Fath Davis Ruffins

The explosive interest in African American art and objects, museums, monuments and memorials since 1968 has had some unexpected consequences.  In this article, Ruffins, a Smithsonian curator discusses the impact of rising prices on African American object collecting since 1968.

Artists in this issue:

Tina Williams Brewer, David R. MacDonald, Robert Blackburn, Carl G. Hill, Robert S. Ducanson, Thomas Day, Hughie Lee-Smith, David Driskell, Nick Cave, Carrie Mae Weems, Herbert Gentry, William T. Williams, Beverly Buchanan, Henry O. Tanner, Archibald Motley, Jr, Elizabeth Catlett, John Soloman Sanderidge, Warden Milan II, Julie Mehretu, Kira Lynn Harris, Carolee Schneemann, Karyn Olivier, Marc Robinson, Kehinde Wiley, Rashawn Griffin, Mickelene Thomas, Wangechi Mutu, Nadine Robinson, Michael Queenland, John Biggers, Felrath Hines, Frederick Wallace, Mose Tolliver, Deacon Eddie Moore, David Butler