Off to the Museums

One thing I’d been anticipating about moving to Washington, DC is the chance to finally visit all the Smithsonians. My only memory of visiting the Smithsonian back in the day is the Air and Space museum, not exactly my cup of tea now. I pictured spending my days in the National Museum of the American Indian and wandering the halls of the National Gallery of Art. I imagined job hunting from the café, in between art rambles and time travels.

The government shutdown put a bit of a spanner in the works. What are the odds? And now that it’s all been forgotten, I’ve been popping into the museums every chance I get.  Of course, my first stop was the new African American Museum of History and Culture.

Lucky for me, the buzz around the museum is starting to die down (two years later!!) and I was able to get in without booking advance tickets. But there was still a line forming as I arrived at 9:30am on an icy cold day in February. I highly recommend going early, mostly because it took me all day to wind my way through the bottom three floors dedicated to narrating global dimensions of slavery and freedom. I didn’t even make it to the culture part, I’m saving that for next time.

The museum lobby is high style but the architecture doesn’t overwhelm the space. I mean, the building is stunning but the emphasis is clearly on the function and it all functions very well. You could say the function of the main floor is to pay for the building – through event spaces, the shop and extensive sponsorship opportunities. There’s a Walmart-branded reception area, the Oprah Winfrey movie theatre, the Ford something or other and untold others all jostling for a prime spot to brand. You have to descend below ground to actually get into things.

And just waiting was the biggest elevator I’d ever seen. It fit 25 people!! But that is the only way to get down there, the lines must get pretty long at times. Anyway, as a result of this the museum-going experience is surprisingly intimate. We became a kind of cohort, navigating the exhibition together at first in silence.

It was all like this; the main historical exhibition is very thoughtful, haunting at times, as it openly reckons with our history. Because that is what it was doing – I may have learned a lot but the exhibitions focus on retelling our well-known national narratives in ways that center African American experiences. I spent most of the day winding my way thru it all, taking a breather in the superb southern-style café because frankly I needed it. After months of the #diversknitty discussions this felt very grounding and inspiring. On the way out, I caught a special exhibit on Oprah which caught me by surprise because I guess I sort of took Oprah for granted, for my whole life she has just always been there on TV but MAN that is the whole point, she is a legend.

My intention here was not to write a museum review, but that is what I’ve nearly ended up with. Where else can one go for museum reviews? Perhaps if I went to more museums I could make a habit of this.

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