Op-EdOpinion

Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum: Back, Better and Under New Leadership

My name is Melanie A. Adams and I am happy to serve as the new director of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. I come to the museum with more than 25 years of experience in higher education and museums. I am very excited to join the staff of the museum, the community and the Smithsonian.

Before joining the museum, I lived and worked in the Midwest, first in St. Louis and then in St. Paul, Minn. In both cities, I worked for historical societies to help them find ways to better connect with their communities and create content that was both timely and relevant to the people they served. While I enjoyed my time in the Midwest, I was happy to move closer to my home state of New Jersey and become a member of the vibrant community of Washington, D.C.

Since its founding in 1967, under the leadership of John Kinard, the Anacostia Community Museum has served as a place to share community stories. From exhibitions about Anacostia history to African American heritage, to contemporary urban issues like gentrification and environmental justice, the museum has always been a space for the community to commemorate, celebrate and share its history and concerns with the D.C. region and beyond.

Indeed, the work of the museum goes beyond the D.C. area by providing a national model for how museums can work with their communities and help address their most pressing matters.

The museum’s current exhibition, “A Right to the City,” highlights six neighborhoods across the city — Adams Morgan, Anacostia, Brookland, Chinatown, Shaw and Southwest — and tells the story of how ordinary Washingtonians have helped shape and reshape their neighborhoods in extraordinary ways: through the fight for quality public education, for healthy and green communities, for equitable development and transit, and for a genuinely democratic approach to city planning.

This exhibition, along with the public programs, is a great example of the work the museum does to address relevant community issues that are often universally relevant. This past year the museum’s advisory board ratified a bold new vision and mission to guide the work of the museum. The museum’s vision is focused on creating opportunities for urban communities to activate their collective power for a more equitable future. As a trusted and inclusive organization, the Anacostia Community Museum seeks to inspire communities to take action and serve as an incubator for the next generation of civically engaged citizens.

The museum’s new mission is to illuminate and amplify the community’s collective power. We will do this by convening people and ideas, documenting and preserving the community’s memories, struggles and successes, and offering a platform where diverse voices and cultures can be heard. We believe that bridging disparate parts of our communities can bring collective action to bear on forging a better future together.

For the past seven months, the Anacostia Community Museum has been closed to do some renovations of our parking lot and refreshing of our lobby, gallery space and landscape. These new changes will allow us to expand our spaces both inside and outside of our building to provide more space for visitors to experience the museum’s content and for public programs. We hope these revitalized spaces will encourage new and returning visitors to feel at home and a part of the museum.

We will reopen the museum with a community celebration on Sunday, Oct. 13 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will enjoy refreshments, live entertainment and additional content in “A Right to the City.” I look forward to greeting the community and invite you to enjoy the space. As always, admission to the Anacostia Community Museum is free and all are welcome. I hope you will stop by and say hello. We’re Back and Better.

Adams is director of Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum.

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