Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

America's Only Museum of the Arts of Africa

••• Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. © Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art has the largest publicly held collection of contemporary African art in the United States including more than 10,000 objects representing nearly every country in Africa dating from ancient to contemporary times. The collection contains a variety of media and art forms—textiles, photography, sculpture, pottery, paintings, jewelry and video art.

Founded in l964 as a private educational institution, the Museum of African Art initially occupied a town house once owned by Frederick Douglass, a former slave, abolitionist and statesman.

In 1979, the Museum of African Art became part of the Smithsonian Institution and in 1981 it was officially renamed the National Museum of African Art. In 1987, the museum was relocated to its current facility on the National Mall. The museum is the only national museum in the United States dedicated to the collection, exhibition, conservation and study of the arts of Africa. The building includes exhibition galleries, public education facilities, an art conservation laboratory, a research library and photographic archives.

Exhibit Highlights

The museum has nearly 22,000 square feet of exhibition space. The Sylvia H. Williams Gallery, located on sub-level one, displays contemporary art. The Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection rotates a selection of the 525 objects from this collection. The remaining galleries offer exhibitions on various subjects. Exhibits include: 

  • The Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection Highlights—ongoing.
  • African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection—ongoing.
  • Jim Chuchu's Innovations - through July 2018
  • Wind Sculpture VII-ongoing
  • Healing Arts-ongoing
  • Senses of Time: Video and Film - through January 2018

Education and Research

The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art offers a variety of educational programs, including lectures, public discussions, films, storytelling, musical performances, and workshops.

The museum also has programs and activities at Washington, DC area schools and African Embassies. The Warren M. Robbins Library, named for the museum’s founder, is a branch of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries system and supports research, exhibitions and public programs of the museum. It is the major resource center in the world for the research and study of the visual arts of Africa, and houses more than 32,000 volumes on African art, history and culture. It is open to scholars and the general public by appointment Monday through Friday.  

The museum’s Conservation Department is dedicated to the long-term preservation of art and other cultural property from the entire continent of Africa and is responsible for the examination, documentation, preventative care, treatment and restoration of these materials. The museum houses a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory and continues to refine conservation procedures unique to the care of African art. Conservation activities are integrated into every aspect of the museum’s operation. These activities include documenting the condition of all collection objects, treating objects, assessing the condition and previous restoration of potential acquisitions, maintaining optimal exhibition/storage conditions for preserving artifacts, executing collections-based research, conducting educational tours of the lab and preparing interns for formal conservation training.

950 Independence Avenue SW. Washington, D.C. The closest Metro Station is the Smithsonian.
See a map of the National Mall

Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25.