AAAM was established to provide professional development and networking opportunities to serve its membership base and African American and African diaspora audiences broadly. The Association has a longstanding success rate of convening leaders, from national and international institutions, around issues of professional development and capacity building, boasting a membership of over 500 individual and institutional members rallying around this worthy cause.
Membership is comprised of museums, museum professionals, institutions, and individuals that share an interest in African American art, culture, and history. Through training opportunities and member services, AAAM supports the goals of African American museums and museum professionals. The Association includes cultural organizations, historical societies and museums which not only collect, preserve, and exhibit objects valuable to art, history and science, but also educational institutions, research agencies and cultural centers.
AAAM works as an advocate for the interests of institutions and individuals committed to the support of African and African derived cultures. It defines a relationship for the body of such institutions within the national museum community, and seeks to strengthen such institutions through improved communication, shared resources, training, annual conferences, technical assistance, and fundraising guidance. The Association also provides, through newsletters, placement bureaus, etc., services supportive for the professional needs of its membership.
AAAM shares a common core of knowledge and sense of purpose with of our member institutions to advance the professional and scholarly attainments of our members by supporting opportunities for sound professional preparation, observing high ethical standards, and providing outlets for research and collaboration that foster improvement of the museum profession.
In the late 1960s, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum in Chicago, and Dr. Charles H. Wright, of the Museum of African American History in Detroit, initiated a series of conferences for Black museums. In 1978, a consortium of six Black museums, with funding from the National Museum Act (administered by the Smithsonian Institution), presented a series of conferences at participating institutions. The conferences provided the opportunity for an ad hoc committee to lay the groundwork for yet another organization.
Under the chairmanship of E. Barry Gaither, the committee prepared by-laws, which were ratified in Detroit in February of 1978. The new organization adopted the name “African American Museums Association” (AAMA), and elected its first governing council. AAMA’s first office was at the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Boston, Massachusetts.
During the General Session of the 1997 AAMA Annual Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, the members present voted to change the name to “Association of African American Museums,” dissolving the former name of AAMA. Reorganized as the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) in 1998, the organization continued servicing constituents with annual conferences and fellowship opportunities.
Under the leadership of a dedicated volunteer executive director, William “Bill” Billingsley, AAAM relocated to the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Ohio and expanded its operations to serve the burgeoning number of new institutions focused on African American content. During this period, the organization set out to provide improved communication (including a website and newsletter), shared resources, professional training, and technical assistance.
In the 2000s and beyond, the Association has focused on identifying the composition and needs of its constituents and the larger African American museum community, aided by the support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Including, a number of projects surveying the Black Museum field and supporting strategic planning for the Association. Continuing its core work and collaborating with the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, AAAM looks forward to future success in furthering and implementing the important work of institutions and professionals dedicated to preserving and promoting the art, history, and culture of African and African American communities globally.