Smithsonian Names Melanie A. Adams Director of Anacostia Community Museum

May 23, 2019
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Credit: Michael Barnes

Melanie A. Adams has been named the director of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, effective Aug. 5. Adams currently serves as deputy director, learning initiatives, at the Minnesota Historical Society. With more than 25 years of community engagement experience in museums and higher education, she is dedicated to bringing stakeholders together to address relevant community issues.

Since 2016, Adams has led efforts at the Minnesota Historical Society to develop strategic partnerships, audiences and resources within local communities. As deputy director, she managed 26 historic sites and museums throughout Minnesota. During her tenure, she created the community outreach department to provide partnerships and programs outside the museum walls. 

Before her time at the Minnesota Historical Society, Adams was a managing director of the Missouri Historical Society for 11 years. She oversaw more than 700 St. Louis community programs annually, including events with more than 100 community partners. She focused her work on addressing the cultural and social concerns of the St. Louis community.

“Melanie is a proven educator, administrator and leader,” said David Skorton, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “Her stellar leadership at cultural institutions and national non-profits demonstrates that she has the experience and vision to guide the Anacostia Community Museum to a bright future by expanding its reach and impact.” 

Adams was president of the Association of Midwest Museums from 2014 to 2016, and she currently serves on the council of the American Association for State and Local History. As a facilitator of workshops on topics related to museums and race, she helps professionals understand barriers to connecting with diverse audiences.

Her past work has focused on racial inequality in areas such as education. Appointed by the mayor in 2007 to the Special Administrative Board of St. Louis Public Schools, she worked for nine years with students, staff and the public to help the district regain accreditation. Adams has received numerous accolades for her community work; she was named a St. Louis NAACP 100 Community Leader in 2009 and the Royal Vagabonds Foundation Extraordinary St. Louis Trailblazer in 2014.

“I am excited and honored to join the staff of the Anacostia Community Museum and build upon the great legacy of socially relevant programs, exhibitions and collections that explore the D.C. community and serve as a national model for the museum field,” Adams said.

Adams holds a bachelor’s degree in English/African-American studies from the University of Virginia, a master’s degree in education from the University of Vermont and a doctorate from the University of Missouri St. Louis in educational leadership and policy studies.

She succeeds Lori Yarrish, who was the director of the museum from December 2017 until her death in August 2018. Lisa Sasaki, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, has served as interim director since then.

The search committee was chaired by John Davis, Provost and Under Secretary for Museums, Education, and Research. Committee members were Arrington Dixon; Miriam Doutriaux, collections manager, Anacostia Community Museum; Bennie Johnson, chair, Anacostia Community Museum Board; Michael Mason, director, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage; Samir Meghelli, senior curator, Anacostia Community Museum; Lisa Sasaki, interim director, Anacostia Community Museum and director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center; Gina Stikes, member, Anacostia Community Museum Board; and Mossi Tull, member, Anacostia Community Museum Board.

About the Museum

The Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (original name) was established in a converted Southeast Washington movie theater in 1967 to bring the Smithsonian off the National Mall and into a local, inner-city environment.

In 2006, the name was changed to the Anacostia Community Museum. Exhibitions, collections and public programs examine contemporary themes through the eyes of diverse community members. The museum’s collections consist of objects and archival materials that document urban communities and the lives of urban residents, from home life and everyday activities to the community-building efforts of artists, activists and others.

While closed for renovations though mid-October, the museum is offering “Offsite and In the City,” an initiative that includes satellite locations of the exhibition “A Right to the City” at branches of the D.C. Public Library and complementary public programs at venues throughout the District.

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Linda St. Thomas


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