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A Museum for the People: Museums and Their Communities, 50 Years Later

December 6, 2019 @ 8:30 am - 6:30 pm

A Museum for the People: Museums and Their Communities, 50 Years Later

Smithsonian Symposium presented by the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) and Asian Pacific American Center (APAC).

About this Event
Shortly after the opening of the first federally funded community museum in 1967, the community-focused phenomena began to sweep the nation. As organizations seeking to create a more localized cultural experience grew in number, so did the need to understand their role within the communities they sought to serve.

A convening of those working on the frontlines was called to develop the best strategies for operating and engaging audiences. The year was 1969 and the result was a seminal publication, “A Museum for The People,” outlining this historic meeting of the minds.

Fifty years later, many of the questions and insights captured in the book remain at the forefront of our conversations. As we look toward the future of community-based cultural organizations, we invite you to a One Smithsonian Symposium, presented by the Anacostia Community Museum and the Asian Pacific American Center. Join us as we convene scholars, museum professionals, community members and other arts and culture workers to explore what it means to be a museum for the people in the 21st century and beyond.

*Reception directly following symposium.


9:30am -11:00am (30 mins Q&A)

A Museum for the People? Reflections on Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Did we believe museums could transform communities, or did communities transform museums? What is a community museum today? Who is represented? Looking back on the “A Museum for the People” symposium in 1969 with some of the original participants to discuss the evolution of the community museum’s role in an ever-changing social and political landscape.

Moderator: Lisa Sasaki, Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center


• Emily Dennis Harvey, co-organizer of the 1969 symposium and Art Department Chair, State University of New York-Rockland

• Carlos Tortolero, founder and president, National Museum of Mexican Art

• Ron Chew, formerly of Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

• Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director, National Museum of African American History & Culture


11:00am -12:30pm (30 mins Q&A)

New Programming for the Community Museum

Today’s museums have to do more than display objects and descriptive text labels. They must interpret content in a way that informs, engages, and is relevant to diverse audiences. In short, they have to be all things to all people. While we know this is not possible, there are some museums that are doing a great job in developing and interpreting content that resonates with their visitors. These museums work closely with their communities to understand their needs and encourages them to share their stories in their own voice. Going beyond a community gallery or a celebratory year, these museums develop and sustain relationships with communities that last long after the exhibit closes or the program concludes.

Moderator: Melanie Adams, Director, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum


• Brenda Tindal, Director of Education & Engagement, International African American Museum

• Dina Bailey, Director of Methodology & Practice, The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

• Jody Sowell, Director of Exhibitions & Research, Missouri Historical Society


Rethinking Museums from Outside the Field

1:15pm -3:00pm

What are museums? What do museums do, for whom, and to what end? The new alternative definition of museum, as proposed and debated at the 25th ICOM General Conference in Kyoto, Japan, September 1st – 7th, 2019, calls for “active partnership with and for diverse communities,” and “contribution to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.” It emphasizes not only museums’ role in serving communities, but also the fact that museums cannot do it alone. In that light, what do others outside the museum field think of museums and expect of museums in serving communities, both directly and as partners?

Moderator: Teng Chamcharus, Smithsonian

• Diana Pardue, Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island at National Park Service; member, ICOM Executive Council; past co-chair, ICOM-US Committee

• Stacey Karpen Dohn, Whitman-Walker Health

• Ted Gong, 1882 Project Foundation and DC Chapter of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance

• Linnea Hegarty, D.C. Public Library


3:00pm – 4:30pm

The Public Arts

Artists and creators seek to have a meaningful dialogue with and within communities. How do community museums make space for creativity and dialogue? How are artists and artist groups connecting and collaborating with communities today? Where can this dialogue go?

Moderator: Joy Ford Austin, Executive Director, HumanitiesDC


• Betty Avila, Executive Director, Self Help Graphics & Art

• Mary Brown, Executive Director, Life Pieces to Masterpieces

• Nico Wheadon, Executive Director, NXTHVN

• Mazi Mutafa, Executive Director, Words Beats & Life Inc.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-museum-for-the-people-museums-and-their-communities-50-years-later-tickets-80526056603


December 6, 2019
8:30 am - 6:30 pm


Washington, DC
Washington, DC 03801 United States + Google Map
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