Lonnie G. Bunch, III




Dear AAAM Members,

When I became the Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture nearly 14 years ago, the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) joined me to help make certain our dream was not deferred and that we would be able to open an African American museum on the National Mall. Together, we worked with Freelon-Bond and Lord Cultural Resources to obtain input from the field through stakeholder meetings in an effort to make certain the new African American museum would not only commemorate our rich history but would also serve as a resource to the African American museum field. Through your continued support, the Museum has been able to serve our field beyond anything we could have imagined.

In my role as the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, I remain heavily vested in AAAM and continue to be involved in the Association. I recently had a conversation with your new Executive Director, Vedet Coleman-Robinson.  She shared a great deal with me regarding her vision for AAAM, the successes within the Association, as well as the partnerships she has forged for AAAM within the past year.

She also informed me of the profound impact COVID-19 has had on the African American museum field as a whole. Vedet confirmed that several AAAM institutional members had to close their doors temporarily. She also mentioned that several of you have indicated that you had to make difficult financial decisions within the past few weeks. I want you to know that I understand that these are unprecedented times and that I too have had to make difficult decisions for the Smithsonian.

We all are feeling the impact of COVID-19 on the museum field, and I want to emphasize that we are in this together. We will continue to work on our common goals and make sure that the advances we have made in advocating for and commemorating African American history do not end in 2020.  It is no secret that, time and time again, AAAM members have shown a certain sense of tenacity and buoyancy in the face of significant setbacks or obstacles. This pandemic will be no exception and will show our true spirit. We will all come out of this catastrophe, perhaps a bit bruised, but we will not be broken.  To this end, I have asked Vedet to identify the immediate and long-term needs of AAAM members as a result of COVID-19. Through the information shared by you, she will work on a plan to determine the top needs of members to engage stakeholders and supporters.

As I stated earlier, we are in this together. Through Vedet’s leadership and the leadership of the AAAM Board, the Association will be able to strategize and collectively advocate for African American museums with the same spirit we had when we advocated for over 40 years to have an African American museum on the National Mall. We did that work together, facing challenges and overcoming obstacles. You made sure to drive the narrative forward in your respective communities. We will need to do the same for all of our museums and make our voices heard.  You have a champion in me, and I join you in supporting the association and its efforts to continue our work in this time of adversity.

Thank you for your time, and please be safe.


Lonnie G. Bunch, III