National Museum of African American History and Culture /
The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
Art director for exhibitions and Manager of 2D team.
Completed at Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
SEGD Global Design Award: Merit Award 2017
Graphis Design Annual: Silver Award
Spaces, Places, & Cities category in Fast Company’s 2017 Innovation by Design Awards
Finalist, Industrial Design Society of America, 2016 IDEA Awards
Gold, Best Scenography for a Permanent Collection, 2017 International Design & Communication Awards
GOOD DESIGNTM Award, Chicago Atheneum, 2017 Good Design Awards
The Best Art of 2016 (NY Times)
Visiting the African-American Museum: Waiting, Reading, Thinking, Connecting, Feeling (NY Times)
Review: The Smithsonian African American Museum is Here At Last. It Uplifts and Upsets (NY Times)
I, Too, Sing America (NY Times)
African American Museum opening: 'This place is more than a building. It is a dream come true.' (Washington Post)
Intimate Photos Show the Power of the African American Museum (National Geographic)
Building design © Adjaye Associates.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It helps all Americans see how their stories, their histories and their cultures are shaped and informed by global influences. It explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture. In 2010, NMAAHC hired RAA to design its inaugural exhibitions (85,000 sq ft) while the museum was building its collections, its staff and designing its architecture. RAA's guiding principles were to: set the bar high, provide a full truth that is hard and unvarnished; not provide simple answers and allow for ambiguity; embrace ambiguity, nuance and subtlety; focus on the experiences of people to give meaning to events; embed humor and encourage laughter, even – or especially – where content is difficult; lastly, to remember our humanity. Opening and dedication by President Barack Obama, September 24, 2016.
Concourse Level History Galleries
Slavery & Freedom, The Era of Segregation, 1968 and Beyond
During the concept design phase, RAA proposed excavating 60 feet below grade to create a volume large enough to design a journey through 400 years of America’s history. Three “History” galleries: Slavery and Freedom, the Era of Segregation, and Beyond 1968 are tiered within a single space, facing a monumental wall calling out the Founding of America, within which, the country’s challenges and changing notions of freedom, and the paradox of liberty, plays out. Creating the large space also allowed for the strategic placement of large scale and iconic artifacts to be dramatically mounted, including a segregated railcar, a plane flown by Tuskeegee airmen, a guard tower from Angola State Prison, a slave cabin from Edisto Island, and the casket in which Emmett Till was buried. Two trenches were dug to tell the story of the Revolutionary War and later, the Civil War. And in the deepest pit and lowest point of the museum, we located the relics from the 1794 Portuguese slave ship, São José. “Landing” Theaters, Reflection spaces, and Story Booths are located along zig-zagging ramps that rise through the space toward Langston Hughes’ words “I, Too, Am America.”
THE MIDDLE PASSAGE INTRODUCTION. The metal clad wall at the entrance is covered in over 400 slave ship names from the Middle Passage. Photo credits: (L) Aki Carpenter, (R) Ron Blunt.
(LEFT TO RIGHT) Artifacts of the sugar economy and trade: Iron sugar pot and ornate silver objects embedded in sugar. Transatlantic Slave Trade artifacts: Cat o' Nine Tails and the Ife Head of the Yoruba. Domestic Slave Trade artifact: Ashley's Sack - An enslaved woman, Rose, gave it to her daughter before the girl was sold away telling her that it was filled with love.Auction block from Hagerstown, MD. It was sitting on a street corder on a small patch of grass in front of a gas station. Photo credit: 1-2 Aki Carpenter, 3-4 Ron Blunt.
THE PARADOX OF LIBERTY. Emerging into the high space of the Slavery and Freedom gallery, visitors are confronted the Paradox of Liberty installation, set again the Founding of America monumental wall. A statue of Thomas Jefferson stands in front of a stack of bricks marked with the names of people he owned. Photo credit: Ron Blunt.
KING COTTON. Bales have been stacked to represent the country’s enormous economic reliance on slavery during the early years of its expansion. Photo credit: Ron Blunt.
National Geographic photographer Ruddy Roye captured emotional and meaningful moments on opening day. Photo credit: Ruddy Role, National Geographic
(LEFT) The Modern Civil Rights Movement exhibit area also features key legislation of the era, including: Brown v. Board of Education, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Loving v. Virginia. (RIGHT) The Martin Luther King, Jr. case features a Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Loretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2014. Photo credit: Aki Carpenter
(LEFT) NAT TURNER'S BIBLE. Turner led a slave rebellion in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. The rebellion halted abolitionists' ambitions and spurred harsher laws against slaves and blacks. Photo credit: Luka Kito (MIDDLE) Ku Klux Klan hood. Photo credit: Lexey Swall / NY Times. (RIGHT) ANGOLA PRISON TOWER. Louisiana State Penitentiary, called Angola, occupies a former plantation. The prison is now among the largest in the country, and most of the inmates are African-Americans serving life sentences. Photo credit: Lexey Swall / NY Times.
LANDING THEATER INTRODUCTIONS. A set of three major films in the History galleries are presented as large-scale, sit-down, narrative programs. Moving through major eras in history, they look back at the constant and ongoing struggle for freedom and equality over time. Photo credit: Megan Kerman
(LEFT) REFLECTIONS BOOTH. An interactive booth allows people to share and record their reflections through video and audio as a way of remembering and commemorating our history. (RIGHT) RAA conceptualized and wrote treatments for over 200 media programs and experiences including large-scale interactive and archival media. Our goal was to engage visitors at multiple levels, and to provide a way for people to connect deeply and meaningfully to the Museum and its stories. Photo credit: Megan Kerman
Third Floor Community Galleries
Making a Way Out of No Way, Power of Place, Sports, Military
“Making a way out of no way” is a phrase rooted in and understood by the African American community, which expresses the creativity, resilience and optimism found in a community that for generations was given and told “no way.” This theme became the lens and pathway through the Community galleries, where we understand the struggles and accomplishments of everyday, extraordinary people. In the Military gallery, the “Double V campaign” - fighting for victory abroad and at home against segregation and discrimination, became the physical “V” form around which stories are told about African Americans fighting in America’s war since the Revolution. And where the gallery opens toward a view of the Washington Monument, those who won the Medal of Honor are recognized. In the Sports gallery, visitors enter under a large-scale media program in which we see the some of the greatest moments and legends in sports history, and learn about America’s “gamechangers”- those who not only changed their sport, but history itself.
Details of the Making a Way Out of No Way exhibition. Photo credit: Megan Kerman
(LEFT) A super graphic of Mary McLeod Bethune's voice bookends the Activism section of the Making a Way Out of No Way gallery. (RIGHT) A cluster of historic photographs help to introduce the Lyles Farm story in the Power of Place gallery. Photo credit: Aki Carpenter
POWER OF PLACE. A large-scale case in the Lowcountry: Rice Fields area of the Power of Place gallery. Power of Place showcases ten "place study." Each provides intimate views into distinct moments of the African American experience. Photo credit: Luka Kito
(ABOVE) Details of the Sports gallery. Photo credit: Matt Krupanski
Fourth Floor Community Galleries
Cultural Expressions, Musical Crossroads, Taking the Stage, Visual Art
On the fourth floor of the Museum, are “Culture” galleries: Cultural Expressions, Taking the Stage, Musical Crossroads and Visual Arts. A central, overhead media program celebrates African American cultural expressions on a large-scale, overhead screen that rings a space where people may sit and gather. A great diversity of stories and artifacts surround the seating in a quilted pattern of casework that allows visitors to pass through to the other galleries. In Taking the Stage, visitors enter a “back-stage” experience where the history of African Americans in theater, film, television and stand-up reveals the often difficult experiences of those working in the industry and how popular American culture evolved with African Americans in the picture. In Musical Crossroads, visitors can trace roots and connections between musical genres from Negro Spirituals and Work Songs to Funk, Blues, Jazz and Hip-Hop. A dance floor positioned between Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and the P-Funk Mothership gives visitors a chance to shake their booty, while others may visit the Record Store or Recording Studio. In the Visual Arts gallery, work from a range of artists including Jacob Lawrence, Charles White and Kara Walker illustrates the critical role that African Americans played in shaping the history of American art.
TAKING THE STAGE explores the history of African Americans in theater, film, and television to celebrate their creative achievements, demonstrate their cultural impact, and illuminate their struggles for artistic freedom and equal representation. Photo credit: Aki Carpenter