The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum is turning off the lights — and heading into the community.
The museum in Southeast Washington, which was established in 1967 as a “experimental store-front museum” to bring the arts to underserved communities, begin an extensive lighting renovation Monday and will be closed to the public until the end of July. “This is long overdue, long needed,” says director Camille Giraud Akeju, of the ACM’s near-three month closure. “It’ll be a nice facelift.”
In its place, the museum, which has also focused on African American culture and the history of the Anacostia community over the years, has launched an off-site initiative — “ACM:
Out & About.” This artistic and cultural program will include poetry slams, community history talks and Latin dance events, held throughout the D.C. area.
The first events will be the kid-friendly “Grandma’s Cautionary Tales” story-telling session on May 12 at 2 p.m. at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library, and the continuation of the “Metro Mambo” series on May 19, a discussion of the flavors and influence of Latin music. “We talk about the syncopation and the evolution, how it’s impacted American music culture...and then we have an all-out dance party,” Akeju says of the live-music event, to be held at the National Museum of African Art. “It’s a multi-generational, very diverse audience.”
The museum is also taking the opportunity to highlight the cultural side of Southeast Washington in its Smithsonian Folklife Festival event “Citified: Arts and Creativity East of the Anacostia River,” where crafters, African dancers and drummers, bands, and more will demonstrate the range of initiatives that bind the community together. The program will conclude the ACM’s three-installment “Call and Response: Community and Creativity” exhibition series, which has focused on promoting the arts in urban communities and introducing new audiences to the arts. During the festival, the museum will provide shuttle service to and from the National Mall. “We spent two years doing outreach into the community to convene these folks and tell them what we were trying to do and why we were trying to do it,” Akeju says of finding the tucked-away creativity. “We figured this was a great opportunity to showcase them beyond Anacostia,”
“It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The renovation should be completed just in time for the museum’s 45th anniversary celebration and the opening of its new exhibit “Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement,” both happening in September. “We’ve transitioned from being specifically ethnic-focused to a museum that focuses on urban issues,” Akeju says of the ACM’s new emphasis on reaching beyond Anacostia. “This is a new scope for us that is going to broaden, I think, our audience and our appeal.”
“It’s quite an endeavor for us,” she says of the changes.”That’s when we’re really going to be revealing our new appearance, our new mission — it’s sort of a rebirth for the museum. It’s going to be very exciting.”
The renovation concludes July 29 and the museum will re-open Monday, July 30. “Citified” will be held on the Mall June 27 - July 1 and July 4-8. For more information, visit anacostia.si.edu.