Jan 13, 2023 - News

Northwest African American Museum to reopen

A brick building with early 20th century style and a big cream colored archway, with bushes in front.

A view of the Northwest African American Museum. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

The Northwest African American Museum is reopening Monday after being closed for more than two years.

Why it matters: The museum is a central place to celebrate Black artists, history and culture. But it has been shuttered since 2020 because of a combination of COVID-19 precautions and renovations.

What they're saying: "Black museums are the culture keepers of our heritage," LaNesha DeBardelaben, the Northwest African American Museum's president and CEO, told KIRO-TV during the museum's latest closure period.

  • "These are places where the stories of the past are used to inspire the present, so that we can have a stronger future."

Catch up quick: The site has been a source of controversy over the decades, as different groups disagreed over the ideal direction for a Black history museum in Seattle.

  • In 1981, a community coalition initially proposed the development of an African American history museum and cultural center in Seattle's historically Black Central District, per HistoryLink.org.
  • Four years later, a group of activists, frustrated with slow progress on the project, began occupying the Colman School building in the neighborhood to claim it as the future museum site. The school had closed earlier that same year.
  • The activists stayed in the building for at least eight years (estimates vary), with Seattle city officials taking action to end the protest in 1993 by agreeing to financially support the museum.

Yes, but: The activists who spent years of their lives ensuring the building would become a museum weren't ultimately the ones to take control of it.

  • In 2003, Seattle Public Schools sold the building to the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. The nonprofit turned one floor of the building into a museum — a much smaller footprint than the earlier activists wanted — while using other parts of the building for housing units.
  • The reimagined Northwest African American Museum, now operated by a separate nonprofit, opened to the public in 2008.

Details: The museum will hold a grand reopening from 11am to 5pm on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

  • The reopening event will include music, movies, family activities and people speaking about social justice, the museum wrote on Instagram.
  • A new exhibit will also debut called "The Colors of Life," featuring abstract art from regional Black artists.
  • From 5-8pm, there will be an after party for people 21 and over.

Address: 2300 S. Massachusetts St.


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