7 Crucial Museums of African American Art

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February 24, 2021

Continuing the celebration of this year's Black History Month, we are bringing together

significant cultural institutions that are contributing to African American art in the US. Located throughout the US, these venues celebrate the African American experience and expand our understanding of it through exhibitions and a range of educational programs.

You should also check out museums holding major collections holding art by African American artists, such as Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of African Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Without further ado, here are seven African American art museums around the USA.

Featured image: Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn, via mocada.org.

The Studio Museum, Harlem

Founded fifty years ago to champion, empower, and celebrate artists of African descent, the Studio Museum, Harlem brings together work that has been inspired and influenced by Black culture, serving as a site for the dynamic exchange of ideas about art and society.

Recognized as one of the most important public collections of works by Black artists, their permanent collection represents more than 700 artists, spans 200 years of history and includes over 2,500 works of art, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, watercolors, photographs, videos and mixed-media installations. Among them are works by Dawoud Bey, Jacob Lawrence, Sam Gilliam, Seydou Keita, Kara Walker, Romare Bearden, David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall. They also have the Artist-in-Residence program that has supported over one hundred artists early in their careers.

Featured image: The Studio Museum, Harlem, via studiomuseum.org.

The Museum of African Diaspora, San Francisco

A contemporary art museum, the Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco celebrates Black cultures, ignites challenging conversations, and inspires learning through the global lens of the African Diaspora. One of the few museums in the world focused exclusively on African Diaspora culture and on presenting their rich cultural heritage, their focus spans the African Diaspora across history, from the diaspora at the origin of human existence through the contemporary African Diaspora that has affected communities and cultures around the world.

As one of the designers behind the museum, Deborah Sussman of Sussman/Prejza, put it, "MoAD is essentially a place of storytelling. It’s about people and their experiences, rather than a collection of artifacts." Through their exhibition program, they seek to represent work that may be under-represented in other U.S. museums. They also organize a range of public programs that celebrate the impact of individuals, cultures, and nationalities of African descent on a wide range of artistic and cultural pursuits.

Featured image: The Museum of African Diaspora, San Francisco, via Creative Commons.

The California African American Museum, Los Angeles

Located in Los Angeles, the California African American Museum focuses on enrichment and education on the cultural heritage and history of African Americans with a focus on California and western United States. Founded in 1977, CAAM is the first African American museum of art, history, and culture fully supported by a state, as its tangible recognition of the critically important role African Americans have played in the American West’s cultural, economic, and political development.

Their permanent collection houses 4,000 objects that span landscape painting and portraiture, modern and contemporary art, historical objects and print materials, and mixed-media artworks from the African diaspora and by African Americans from across the United States. The collection places a special focus on works pertinent to California and the American West. Through their programing, they support the work of under-represented artists of color, encouraging conversations about the way African American artists have contributed to American culture and the world at large.

Featured image: The California African American Museum, Los Angeles, via caamuseum.org.

The Museum of African American Art, Los Angeles

A nonprofit cultural institution, the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles seeks to educate visitors of all ages about the arts through the lens of African American culture. Through their exhibitions and programs, they aim to allow artists and their work to inspire new thinking about issues that intersect with the shared experiences of people across the African diaspora and beyond. They often place spotlight on extraordinary local artists, bringing meaningful art experiences to the public.

Their permanent collection houses works from the United States as well as paintings, masks, batiks, carvings, and ceremonial objects from Africa, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and South America. Among highlights is the Palmer C. Hayden Collection, giving the public insight into the life and work of one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

Featured image: The Museum of African American Art, Los Angeles, via maaala.org.

The African American Museum in Philadelphia

Built to house and interpret the life and work of African American, the African American Museum in Philadelphia is committed to telling the story of them in all its permutations: family life, the Civil Rights movement, arts and entertainment, sports, medicine, architecture, politics, religion, law and technology.

The museum presents exhibitions covering three dominant themes - the African Diaspora, the Philadelphia Story, and the Contemporary Narrative, bringing diverse communities together in greater appreciation of the Black experience through the combined narrative of art, culture and historical witness.

The highlight of their collection is the Jack T. Franklin Collection, featuring over 500,000 negatives and photographs that cover virtually every social, cultural and political event in Philadelphia’s African American community during Franklin's lifetime, as well as all of the major events of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Featured image: The African American Museum in Philadelphia, via Creative Commons.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture, Charlotte NC

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, NC was founded with an idea to provide the public with access to African-American culture through a broad range of exhibitions, presentations in the performing arts, innovative educational programs and a link between the greater Charlotte community and the University of North Carolina. Founded in 1974 as the Afro-American Cultural Center, it was open under this name in 2009 to honor Harvey Bernard Gantt, a well-respected community leader and businessman.

The highlight of the permanent collection is the Hewitt Collection of African American Art, an assemblage of fifty-eight works celebrating the expression and passion of twenty master artists, including Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Jonathan Green, Ann Tanksley, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Featured image: The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture, Charlotte NC, via Creative Commons.

Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn

Centering its exhibitions, community programming and educational initiatives in social justice, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) seeks to incite dialogue on pressing social and political issues facing the African Diaspora. Using the visual and performing arts as a point of departure, it seeks to foster a dynamic space for the creation and continuous evolution of culture.

The museum is celebrated for its rich, cultural programming and trailblazing initiatives that empower generations of diverse creators. Each of their exhibitions touches on themes most relevant to the African diaspora, from imagination, love, roots, family, culture, identity, community, education, self- expression, mental, emotional and physical health, to connecting Afrofuturism & STEM.

Featured image: Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Brooklyn, via mocada.org.