Smithsonian's black museum inspires celebration, competitors' worry

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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture broke ground Wednesday with President Obama onsite for the occasion. The new facility is set to open in 2015 and its founding director, Lonnie Bunch, has already raised nearly $100 million and collected roughly 20,000 artifacts for the museum. The Pittsburgh Post -Gazette reported that the effort has left executive directors of smaller black museum around the country, like Charmaine Jefferson of the California African American Museum, worried about the competition.

Even as they’ve celebrated the creation of a massive national museum to tell the once-marginalized story of blacks in America, some executives at existing African-American museums have voiced concerns about competing with a new Smithsonian for money, collections and attention.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled that we will have a museum on the Mall dedicated to this history and culture,” Ms. Jefferson said from Los Angeles. “It’s extraordinary.

“At the same time, there’s apprehension and fear amongst many that people won’t support all the other black museums that have existed for so long, … that everybody will be distracted by the new, bright, shiny museum that’s got all the hype. That is not an outcome that anybody wants.”

The National Museum of African American History and Culture isn’t scheduled to open until late 2015, but the excitement surrounding the final Smithsonian outpost on the Mall is already building.

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