National Museum of African Art
USINFO | 2013-05-09 17:00

The National Museum of African Art is an African art museum located in Washington, D.C., United States. The museum is one of nineteen under the wing of the Smithsonian Institution. The museum, which was started in 1964, was originally located at the Frederick Douglass House in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

In 1979 the museum was transferred over to the Smithsonian and relocated to the National Mall. It opened in its current location, as one of two institutions, constructed mostly underground, in the quadrangle complex behind the Smithsonian Institution Building (the Castle), in 1987. The other is the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery for Asian art.

In 1964, Warren M. Robbins founded the Museum of African Art. It was a privately funded African art museum at the Frederick Douglass House, in Washington, D.C. Robbins owned the building. A former American Foreign Services officer, Robbins was the first museum director. The museum showcased traditional African art and had educational programs about African art and culture. The museum consisted of nine row homes with twelve galleries, a library and a small auditorium. Robbins, who collected African art while serving overseas, sought to "foster an understanding African art in the U.S." The museum grew to have an annual budget of $900,000. Robbins and staff approached the government in 1976 asking the Smithsonian Institution to acquire the museum.

On October 5, 1978, the US Congress authorized the Smithsonian Institution to acquire the museum. The transfer ended on August 13, 1979. Approximately eight thousand objects were transferred to the Smithsonian. In 1981 the museum was renamed the National Museum of African Art.

Two years later, in 1986, the house complex was sold and the collections were transferred to the Smithsonian at the National Mall. The museum opened in a new building constructed in the quadrangle complex behind the Smithsonian Institution Building on September 28, 1987. That same month, a donation of $200,000 was given by an anonymous donor to the museum. On behalf of the donation, the museum library was renamed the Warren M. Robbins Library.

Sylvia H. Williams was selected as the director of the museum in 1983, making the museum the first Smithsonian museum to have a female director. She retained her position as director until her death in 1996. After Williams' death, assistant director Patricia L. Fiske stepped in as acting director. Art historian and curator Roslyn Walker was named director on January 15, 1997 and Fiske returned to her role as assistant director. Sharon Patton also served as director.

The National Museum of African Art is located in the quadrangle complex on the grounds of the National Mall behind the Smithsonian Institution Building. It shares the complex space with the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the S. Dillon Ripley International Center. Congress contributed $960,000 to fund the building of the complex. Groundbreaking for the quadrangle took place on June 21, 1983. The complex, designed by Jean Paul Carlhian, is ninety-six percent underground and has the Enid A. Haupt Garden as its rooftop. The museum, gallery and center are connected via underground tunnels. The underground buildings have design elements which were inspired by the Smithsonian Institution Building, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arts and Industries Building.
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