Addressing a pearls-and-silk crowd packed into the National Museum of American History's Carmichael Auditorium Friday morning, Egypt's First Lady Susan Mubarak spoke eloquently and elegantly about the 1988 opening of her country's first museum for children. "I must confess," she said, "that I had mixed feelings about addressing guests of the 'world's largest museum complex' on what is, perhaps, the world's smallest natural history museum."
The half-done museum, located in a Cairo suburb, will indeed be small-scale -- two stories, fewer than a dozen galleries and a price tag of only $3 million. (In contrast, the Smithsonian Institution comprises 14 Smithsonian museums, six research facilities and the National Zoo, with a total budget of $302.7 million for 1988.) But it will be the first of its kind for the Arab country. "In Egypt, museums provide very little for the child," explained Mubarak. "None are equipped to meet children's needs, nor have they as yet any special programs for children."
Mubarak, who is the founder of the project, is seeking to change that with open-air rooms, audio-visual shows, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Many of the ideas, Mubarak said at a reception following the lecture, came from a Smithsonian group that visited Egypt last year to give advice to the museum's organizers.
Mubarak shook almost everyone's hand in a room filled with the Washington museum-and-charity crowd, including Esther Coopersmith (on the board of the Capital Children's Museum) and Wilhelmina Holladay (founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts). As they met the outgoing Mubarak in a lengthy receiving line, many gave promises of support. So far the nonprofit Egyptian museum has raised all of its funds from private donations within Egypt, and will not get any public money from the government (unlike the Smithsonian, which gets 81 percent of its budget from the federal government).
Mubarak, new to the museum-funding chase, was forthright about asking for help. "We would welcome any support from across the world," she said.
Black History Observance
The Smithsonian will start its observance of Black History Month with a two-day conference, "Black Migration and the American City: Forging the Afro-American Urban Community," on Friday and Saturday in the Hall of Musical Instruments of the National Museum of American History. Sponsored in conjunction with the continuing exhibit "Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration, 1915-1940," the program will feature scholars and oral historians talking about the Afro-American urban community from the 19th century to the present. Topics include urban black women, the Southern exodus, the civil rights movement and the migrant experience. There will also be a free concert of blues, jazz and gospel music at the Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History on Friday night.
Akers' Benefit Performance
Karen Akers will headline a one-night-only performance of "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" in a benefit Wednesday for the Washington Ballet's Choo-San Goh Guest Choreographer Fund. The fund is designed to bring in new choreographers to work with the company and create new ballets, a job done by Goh before he died last fall. Akers' husband is on the board of the Washington Ballet and wanted to do something big to raise money for the fund. The Washington singer is doing the show at New York City's Town Hall, and is bringing the company down on a night off there.
Arts Application Deadline
The D.C. Commission on the Arts has extended its deadline for its Special Constituencies Program to Feb. 19. The project seeks to encourage arts programs for people -- the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled -- isolated from arts and culture. Individual artists and nonprofit arts groups can get grants of as much as $10,000. A workshop to help applicants will be held Thursday at the commission office at 1111 E St. NW. Call 724-5613 for information.
And for writers, the Larry Neal Writers' Competition is accepting submissions in five categories -- poetry, fiction, essay, dramatic writing and criticism -- until March 11. Winners, who must be Washington residents, receive $500 awards, which will be presented at the Larry Neal Writers' Conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library on May 13. This year the annual conference will be preceded by a week-long celebration of the local literary community May 6 to 13.