"I want to welcome you to the very first event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Let me say it one more time—the very first event," said the museum's founding director Lonnie Bunch to a crowd gathered in front of the under-construction Washington, D.C., museum.
On Monday, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, or NMAAHC, held its first official event. Designed by Freelon Adjaye Bond/ SmithGroup, the museum won't open until next fall, but museum officials and local politicians took the long-awaited opportunity to celebrate the construction of the museum nearing completion across the street from the Washington Monument.
"It's been a long wait, and I have to tell you 10 years ago we began this journey with a staff of two," Bunch said. "We had no idea where the building would be. We had no collections, and we had no money. Ten years ago, all we had was a dream. But tonight, we celebrate the realization of that dream. Now we are not at the promised land yet, but we're close, we're very close."
Monday's event kicked off a three-night run of "Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom," a seven-minute projection mapping and audio presentation honoring the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, both 150 years ago in 1865, as well as the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act 50 years ago.
The presentation is as much about honoring these three historic events as it is marking the significance of this museum. Sited less than a mile from the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, this museum is designed to be "a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation."
The NMAAHC façade is the canvas for this presentation. "[The building's] distinctive corona that you see behind me is comprised of a filagree that was inspired by the enslaved craftspeople who created all that wonderful ironwork in Charleston and in New Orleans," Bunch said on Monday. Phil Freelon, FAIA, the founder of the Freelon Group, explained to ARCHITECT during a recent hard-hat tour that this façade, inspired by southern ironwork, is constructed of cast aluminum coated in a bronze-colored finish. At one point in the presentation, zoomed-in images of this façade pattern are projected onto the building itself. "The media against the building was really a way to animate the story," Freelon said to ARCHITECT following Monday's presentation.
"In a way this building has a simple message," Bunch said. "This building is a homage to the fact that so much of our history is hidden in plain sight. And we want to celebrate so much of that history."
Watch a video of Monday's ceremony below (the projection mapping begins at the 58-minute mark.) Tonight is the final night of the "Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom" presentation, which runs from 5:30 to 9 p.m.