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African Art Museum Celebrates 30 Years

Chinazor Onianwah | 5/28/2009, 1:06 a.m.

Two months into being the director of the National Museum of African Art, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, president emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women, marked the 30th anniversary since the museum became part of the Smithsonian Institution. The museum€s first black-tie fund-raising gala, Africa Live(s) on Wed., May 20, saw a turnout of members of the African Diplomatic Corps including newly appointed Deputy Secretary of State for Africa, Ambassador Johnnie Carson. Other participants included Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo who performed during the evening.

€Serving as director of this museum brings together my passion for African art, respect for an anthropological knowledge of the people and cultures of the African continent and my involvement in the world of education,€ Cole said.

African Art collector Warren Murray Robbins, while working as a cultural attach at the United States Embassy in Germany, bought 33 African masks, textiles and other pieces that he used to decorate his home in the District in the 1950s. After an article was printed about his collection in The Washington Post, he invited in curious visitors who came to view his collection. He created an informal museum in his basement as part of an effort to promote cultural communication during the civil rights era.

As his private collections gathered more visitors, Robbins lobbied Congress to have the Smithsonian Institution assume management of the collection, which took place in 1979.

The Right Honorable Baroness Valerie Amos, a member of the House of Lords, received a plaque in recognition for her contribution to the arts from Museum Board advisor Gwendolyn Michael. Photo by Victor Holt
€My vision is that the National Museum of African Art will become a €must see destination€ for visitors to The Smithsonian; that our exhibitions and educational programs will continue to foster the discovery and appreciation of the visual arts of Africa and its history and culture; and that with the use of technology we would manage to reach communities near and far that can learn from and be inspired by the arts of the continent that is the Cradle of Humanity,€ Cole said.

€Over the coming months, I will continue to meet with various groups, listening to hear how my vision for the museum resonates with theirs. Then, with a shared vision and widespread support from all of our stakeholders, the National Museum of African Art will move forward to its rightful place.€

Wayne Clough, secretary of the museum, expressed his excitement over Cole€s vision.

€We are delighted that a scholar, author, educator and leader of such international stature will lead the National Museum of African Art at this opportune time,€ Clough said. €I have known Johnnetta for many years, and I look forward to working with her in her new role and in finding opportunities to use her talents to help with pan-Institutional activities.€

Helen Broadus, board member and avid supporter of the museum, said the money raised at the gala will go towards fund future exhibitions and outreach programs. The amount raised was unavailable by press time.