Around the Mall & Beyond

Since its founding in 1967, the Anacostia Museum has grown from "storefront" concept to "neighborhood museum" to world renown

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In his Office of Economic Opportunity days Kinard worked with youth organizations — such as Rebels With a Cause, the Band of Angels, the Neighborhood Youth Corps — and it was young people whom he enlisted to make the Anacostia Museum a source of urban vitality.

Kinard worked for hiring equity, for the training of minorities, for more- inclusive exhibits. To him, the "community" included the Nation of Islam, anti-methadone organizations, a group called the Inner Voices of Lorton Reformatory, bands and dance groups needing rehearsal space. Until the late '70s, there was even a parrot named George, who talked so much he had to be put in the restroom during meetings.

I don't remember George from my visits in those days, but I do remember going through an exhibit some years ago with Zora Martin-Felton, whom Kinard had hired at the outset to run the education program and who was by then assistant director and Kinard's good right arm. The show was a tribute to black women, and it was presented with such flair and imagination that it didn't need the gimmicks so often relied upon by wealthier museums.

Felton retired a year ago, but she made her mark. "African-American influences permeate every aspect of American life," she wrote in a coauthored 1993 tribute to Kinard. "The clothing we wear, the songs we sing, the dances we dance, the music we compose, the food we eat, the technology we use, the way we speak, the manner in which we style our hair, the high-five handshake, even the intense American love affair with a suntanned skin — all these attest to a deeply ingrained and powerful presence among us."

Over the years the museum expanded. The original building had many problems, and the area became drug-infested, so in 1985 the museum moved a mile up the hill to a site known as Fort Place.

Somewhere along the line the word "Neighborhood" was dropped from the name, for the museum's scope now reached far beyond the limits of Anacostia. For one thing, Kinard's own considerable travels in Africa resulted in lectures, lunchbox forums and special exhibits on international topics.

Of course, the dropping of the word had nothing to do with the museum's popularity. Attendance is well above 100,000 a year, including several school groups each weekday.

As Kinard, who died in 1989, once said, "This museum, if it is to survive, must [enmesh] itself more in this community in the future than it has in the past. . . . We cannot present a full diet of history and leave undone research on the urban problems that plague our community. . . . This museum, unlike any other museum anywhere on Earth, cannot be a place where we just show beautiful things and say pretty words about our history. It must be an advocate for a better way of life for the young and older people alike."


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