Two Smithsonian Units Join To Present the Symposium “A Museum for the People: Museums and Their Communities, 50 Years Later”

November 27, 2019
News Release
Social Media Share Tools
Anacostia Community Museum

Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum

The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center have assembled leaders and scholars from the field for a full-day symposium to discuss the past, present and future of community museums and community cultural institutions Friday, Dec. 6, from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the museum at 1901 Fort Pl. S.E.

Fifty years following the historic 1969 gathering of community-based cultural institutions that resulted in the publication of the seminal book, A Museum for the People, the symposium has been organized to convene colleagues across the Smithsonian and broader museum field for meaningful discussions around efforts at collaborating with communities to document, address and represent their collective histories, cultures and contemporary social issues.

“The symposium is an opportunity to discuss best practices, share strategies and expand collaborations internally and nationally that will lead to new and sustained engagement with communities,” said Melanie Adams, director of the Anacostia Community Museum. “I am particularly pleased to co-host this important event with the Asian Pacific American Center led by my colleague, Lisa Sasaki.”

Participants include Smithsonian leadership and other Smithsonian colleagues, museum professionals from across the country and others with an interest in and commitment to community-based arts/cultural institutions.

Symposium Program

9 a.m.: Opening—Melanie Adams, director, Anacostia Community Museum; John Davis, Smithsonian Provost and Under Secretary for Museums, Education, and Research; Andrea Neighbors, education specialist, Asian Pacific American Center; and Samir Meghelli, curator, Anacostia Community Museum.

9:30 a.m.: A Museum for the People? Reflections on Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going. Did people believe museums could transform communities, or did communities transform museums? What is a community museum today? Who is represented? Reflecting on the 1969 “A Museum for the People” symposium with one of the original organizers as well as leading figures in the museum field today, this panel will explore the evolution of the community museum’s role in an ever-changing social and political landscape. Moderator: Lisa Sasaki, director, Asian Pacific American Center. Panel: Emily Dennis Harvey, co-organizer of the 1969 symposium and art department chair, State University of New York-Rockland; Carlos Tortolero, founder and president, National Museum of Mexican Art; Ron Chew, former executive director, Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience; Kinshasha Holman Conwill, deputy director, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

11 a.m.: New Programming for the Community Museum. Today’s museums must do more than display objects and descriptive text labels. They must also interpret content in a way that informs, engages, and is relevant to diverse audiences. In short, they have to be all things to all people. While it is understood this is not possible, some museums are doing meaningful work in developing and interpreting content that resonates with their visitors. These museums work closely with their communities to understand their needs and encourage them to share their stories in their own voices. Going beyond a community gallery or a celebratory year, these museums develop and sustain relationships with communities that last long after exhibits close or programs conclude. Moderator: Melanie Adams, director, Anacostia Community Museum. Panel: Brenda Tindal, director of education and engagement, International African American Museum; Dina Bailey, director of methodology and practice, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience; Jody Sowell, director of exhibitions and research, Missouri Historical Society.

1:15 p.m. Keynote Conversations—Rethinking Museums from Outside the Field. What are museums?  What do museums do, for whom and to what end? The new alternative definition of museum, as proposed and debated at the 25th ICOM General Conference in Kyoto, Japan, Sept. 1–7 calls for “active partnership with and for diverse communities” and “contribut[ion] to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary well-being.” It emphasizes not only museums’ role in serving communities, but also the fact that museums cannot do it alone. So what do others outside the museum field think of museums and expect of museums in serving communities, both directly and as partners? Moderator: Teng Chamcharus, executive officer, Smithsonian’s Office of the Associate Provost for Education and Access. Panel: Diana Pardue, director, Museum Services Division at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, National Park Service, member of the ICOM Executive Council and past co-chair, ICOM-US Committee; Stacey Karpen Dohn, senior manager of behavioral health, Whitman-Walker Health; Ted Gong, executive director, 1882 Project Foundation; Linnea Hegarty, director of strategic partnerships and development, DC Public Library.

3 p.m.: The Public Arts. Artists and creators seek to have a meaningful dialogue with and within communities. How do community museums make space for creativity and dialogue? How are artists and artist groups connecting and collaborating with communities today? Where can this dialogue go? Moderator: Joy Ford Austin, executive director, HumanitiesDC. Panel: Betty Avila, executive director, Self Help Graphics and Art; Mary Brown, executive director, Life Pieces to Masterpieces; Nico Wheadon, executive director, NXTHVN; Mazi Mutafa, executive director, Words Beats and Life Inc.

4:30 p.m.: Summation: Lisa Sasaki, director, Asian Pacific American Center. A reception will follow.

About the Museum

Established in 1967, the Anacostia Community Museum examines the impact of contemporary social issues on urban communities. For general information, call (202) 633-4820; for public program information, call (202) 633-4844 or visit Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

About the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Established in 1997, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is a museum without walls that presents innovative, community-centered museum experiences throughout the United States and beyond. Visit the center’s website at Follow the center on Twitter and Instagram: @SmithsonianAPA.

# # #

Note to Photo Editor: For images, email and indicate “Symposium Photo” in the subject.



Media website:,

Media invitation: RSVP:, 202-633-4876 or 202-320-1735 (cell)                                                              

Public Programs