Smithsonian's black heritage museum on track for 2016 opening

Posted at 4:12 PM, Jan 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-23 14:29:57-05

It’s been 12 years since federal legislation was signed approving the construction of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, but the site won’t open until next spring.

If you ask the museum’s deputy director, she’ll tell you that’s breakneck speed in the nation’s capitol.

“In D.C. terms, this is very short,” Kinshasha Holman Conwill told the Scripps National Desk with a laugh on Friday. “If you [complete a project] within the lifetime of anyone working on it, you’ve achieved great things.”

Conwill went on to say that the mission behind the institution stretches back much further than 2003. “By the time President Bush signed the legislation, 100 years had actually passed since it was first thought to honor African-American history and culture.”

The 400,000-square-foot building will house thousands of artifacts, telling the story of America “through an African-American lens,” according to Conwill. The museum’s construction began in 2012 and will cost an estimated $500 million, half of which comes from federal funding.

Construction on the NMAAHC continues in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images/2014)

When finished, the NMAAHC hopes to showcase black history and culture on a scale never before seen. “It will be very hard to take in this entire museum in one trip,” Conwill said. “We’re telling so many stories.

“You’ll come into moments that will be horrible and painful to look at; you’ll see some great moments of artistic expression,” she said.

Exhibits on music, sports, the military and more will be included, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s website. Conwill, an artist herself, said art lovers will see works by Hale Woodruff, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence and Jefferson Pinder.

But what will end up being the museum’s most talked-about feature? Conwill ventured to guess the institution’s collection of civil rights-era photography. “I think it will be the best in the country,” she added.

Some other signature items included in the museum’s collection will be a Jim Crow-era railroad car, a Tuskegee Airmen airplane from World War II, Emmett Till’s casket and a slave cabin from South Carolina.

Conwill couldn’t give a specific opening date for the NMAAHC but said, “We’re not going to let 2016 pass without us being open.”

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.