A note: I am sorry for not posting in the past two weeks or so. The first week, my family came to town, which is what this post is about, and then I went to Atlanta to go on a graduate school visit.
What do you do on weekends with gorgeous 70 degree weather in Washington, DC? If you are like a lot of people two Saturdays ago, you took to the National Mall to see the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms that managed to survive the snow. My family and I also made the trip to the Mall, but spent the the day indoors at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
I first wrote about trying to get same-day tickets for the museum with my sister back in October. Right before my sister arrived, my mother and I managed to get 6 tickets to the NMAAHC on a Saturday in March. The weekend in March happened to coincide with my birthday, so my family made the trek from North Carolina to the District in order to celebrate and go to the new museum.
First off please, please, please go to this museum if you are able. It is incredibly well done and powerful. My family and I spent the entire day at the museum and still were not able to to devote enough time to everything. The highlights for us were the underground levels (the chronological history of the African American experience), the sports exhibit, and the music exhibit. You can find more information about getting timed passes at the NMAAHC website. Also, if you want a more in-depth description of the exhibits, I suggest you read this article in the New York Times written by Holland Cotter.
In regards to the museum as a public space, I think this museum may top the National Portrait Gallery as my favorite in terms of using their public non-exhibit spaces well. In addition, every part of the layout of the museum is beautiful and exceptional at drawing people in. For example, the bottom three floors are actually set into one giant underground room with levels. This means you see yourself winding up through history, but can also look down and see where you have come from. It is a very cool effect. I also think the above-ground floors juxtapose the underground portion by being much lighter in design, with the cutouts in the exterior iron work aligned with particular vistas on the National Mall. The atrium and concourse levels have plenty of open space that can and probably will be used for multiple uses once the museum becomes open to walk-ins like all of the other Smithsonian museums. Currently, the majority of the open space on the concourse level is set up as queues for the main exhibit and the cafeteria.
When we visited, the museum was overflowing with visitors. Everyone seemed excited to be there and stood patiently to see the exhibits. In particular, we stood in line for the main exhibit for about 45 minutes before entering, but the line moved quickly. We also waited in line for the cafeteria; we were so hungry when we finally managed to get food, we gobbled it up. The upstairs exhibits were much less crowded and we could peruse the exhibits without feeling like we were blocking other people from seeing them if we stayed in one place for a long time.
The NMAAHC was designed as a museum for today and the future. I can definitely see it growing into itself as the timed pass system is slowly faded away, but that does not mean you should wait to see this museum.