The African American Museum of Northwest reopens Monday. Here are the new features
The Northwest African American Museum reopens on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with food trucks, music and a slate of events and exhibits after redesigning the venue amid a nearly three-year closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A free reopening celebration honoring King, hosted one day after his 94th birthday, will kick off Monday morning at NAAM in Seattle’s downtown area. There will be activities for visitors of all ages, including Kids King Day Soccer, civil rights movie screenings, and art exhibits highlighting local artists.
“Even as we closed our doors, we simply focused, innovated, continued to do what we do and deliver on our mission,” said NAAM President and CEO, LaNesha DeBardelaben. “What reopening allows is a regrouping of the community in a central location… We have emerged over the last two and a half years as the community being both local and regional.”
Visitors can expect a redesigned entry display called the Hallway of Healing and Hope, as well as a community living room, which will include artwork from Onyx Fine Art Collectiona game station with virtual reality activities, and a place where visitors can study, watch movies, and read.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Reopening Celebration will be held Mondays from 11am-5pm, with an after party 5-8pm. For the full list of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, see naamnw.org/king-day-2023.
The community has played a big role in these changes, NAAM Education Coordinator Jason Turner said, adding that many residents have called for an increased presence of local black artists.
“We really pushed for it with this opening,” said Turner. “All you’ll see are community artists.”
Since closing nearly three years ago, NAAM has hosted a number of virtual and in-person events, including pop-ups, Juneteenth celebrations, and interactive storytimes featuring the work of Black children’s book authors. DeBardelaben said visitors can expect more from the art galleries.
“People will be able to see beautiful, inspiring black art in a space created for education, empowerment, and equity,” said DeBardelaben. “Reopening the NAAM facility means a lot to our shared black past and our collective future.”
Chantelle Jackson of Spokane, one of the artists whose work is featured in the “Colors of Life” exhibit, said she was honored to share one of her works, “Keep Going,” for King’s birthday.
“Visual art can be an entry point for conversations and ideas that can help us craft a path to healing and joy,” Jackson said. “Being able to show work in this way on this day celebrating healing and joy is part of the work that Dr. King will do… [be] Glad to see.”
Joy Hollingsworth of the Central District, a NAAM visitor and her grandmother Late education and civil rights activist Dorothy Hollingsworthwhich is on display at the museum, says the return of NAAM holds even greater meaning for Seattle’s black community.
“It’s a space where black culture and history is centered,” Hollingsworth said. “You get to see the historic people who have made our society better and created paths for society to move forward.
“To have a space where you feel like you’re centered, seen, and connected, I think is very important.”
Valerie Chithon, a former Pullman resident who now lives in California with her two children, echoed that sentiment, noting that her family’s visit to the museum in 2019 was inspiring for her children.
“I just want them to know that they are bigger and better than the stereotypes people give of our people,” Chithon said. “I want them to have developed … a kind of curiosity about what black people have been through, what we have overcome and what we continue to overcome.”
Chethon said she would like to return to Washington to visit the museum again.
NAAM has been the subject of controversies over the use of the museum building that have continued since 2008. NAAM, housed in the former Coleman School building, was the site of Protest and professions One of the activists who criticize the direction of the museum.
When asked about the professions, the leaders of the American national movement said they hoped to mend these differences.
“NAAM cares about the entire community,” Turner said. “We are peaceful and we live in love.”
“The heart of the Northwest African American Museum is repair, reconciliation and healing and we are committed to love,” said DeBardelaben. “Love is the greatest force on earth and it can turn an enemy into a friend.”