African-American museum experts assemble in Pittsburgh

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The August Wilson Center for African American Culture served as host to the Association of African American Museums annual conference, Aug. 4-7. Pleased with the results of the convention, Samuel W. Black, AAAM vice president and curator, African American Collection for the John Heinz History Center said over 200 people were in attendance.

WomanToWoman
WOMAN TO WOMAN—Kathe Hambrick Jackson, newly elected president of AAAM, is up to the challenge to lead the organization.

The theme for this year was “I’ve Known Rivers: Presenting African American Arts, Culture and History.” Group officials said the theme was inspired by renowned poet Langston Hughes. The poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is labeled as one of his most famous.

The subject matter of the conference was said to explore efforts by metropolitan museums and cultural institutions to preserve and present the ancient through contemporary African-American history and arts.

Participants gained knowledge and information from more than 25 workshops that were presented. Other activities included the Burroughs-Wright Fellowship Silent and Live Auctions, a career resource booth and an ice cream social.

State representative Jake Wheatley was on hand to welcome participants during the opening day luncheon. Thanking the participants for attending the conference, he referred to the August Wilson Center as a shinning jewel of the city and region. “We have a lot of culture in this city,” he said. “History is not just about buildings, it is also about people,” he said referencing playwright August Wilson.

Bill E. Strickland Jr., founder and president of the nonprofit Bidwell Training Center and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, introduced as a CEO, social architect, community leader and visionary, was the keynote speaker for the Opening Day Luncheon. He outlined how his organization has progressed throughout its 40-plus years. With the theory that people are born into the world as assets, not liabilities, Strickland explained that his organization was created using the arts to teach self-esteem and responsibility to at-risk teens.

Its programs are designed to develop self-esteem and work skills in kids and unemployed adults.

An awards luncheon, recognizing contributions and work of AAAM members and affiliates took place Friday afternoon.

Conference entertainment for the evenings was provided by convention host’s groups. On Wednesday, the president’s Welcome Reception was held at the Andy War­hol Museum. The Thursday evening gathering, Evening Reception-Drums, Jazz, and Soul, was held at the Senator John Heinz History Center, a Smithsonian affiliate. The evening consisted of refreshments provided by area caterers, African drummers and live jazz. A quilt exhibit by fiber artist Tina Williams Brewer dedicated to the Pittsburgh Courier was also a part of the twilight activities. Brewer and her husband, John, provided a historical perspective of the display.

Friday, the final evening of activities took place at the August Wilson Center. Themed “Pittsburgh: Reclaim, Renew, Remix” consisted of an array of activities inclusive of the center’s exhibits and the Burroughs-Wright Fellowship live auction with Karen Farmer White serving as auctioneer. A spoken word performance by Vanessa German, a dance performance by the August Wilson Center Dancers, a performance by trumpeter Sean Jones and vocal tribute to Phyllis Hyman enthralled the audience.

The conference ended with the Pittsburgh: More than Steel Bus Tour, hosted by the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh.

Dedicated to serving the interests and needs of Black museums and cultural institutions nationwide, the AAAM, a non-profit membership organization, was established as the voice of the African American Museums Movement. The group’s membership is composed of museums, museum professionals, institutions, and individuals that share an interest in African-American art, culture and history. Cultural organizations, historical societies and museums that not only collect, preserve and exhibit objects valuable to art, history and science, but also educational institutions, research agencies and cultural centers are involved.

Board members point out that AAAM works as an advocate for the interests of institutions and individuals committed to the support of African and African derived cultures.

Membership privileges include AAAM monthly E-mail updates, quarterly organizational newsletters, membership recognition in Newsletter, listings of job openings in the museum field, reduced registration for AAAM sponsored events, networking and training opportunities, advocacy of group institutions’ concerns before U.S. Congress and other governmental entities, and inclusion in the current edition of the “African American Heritage Directory.”

As outgoing president, Vernon Courtney of the Hampton University Museum and Archives in Hampton, Va., said during his three-year term, the membership of the organization has increased and he has moved the organization into the 21st century by enhancing its technology capabilities.

Enthusiastic about her upcoming three-year presidential term, Kathe Hambrick Jackson of the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville, La., said that during her 15-year involvement with AAAM, 95 percent of what she has learned has come from the group. During her tenure she plans to continue the educational tradition. “The museums would not be what they are if it were not for the AAAM,” she said. Her goal is to triple the membership and to encourage seasoned professionals to mentor the up-and-coming in the field. She said she is aware of the challenges ahead and looks forward to them.

William Billingsley of Wil­berforce, Ohio, serves as AAAM’s executive director.

The 2011 AAAM annual conference is scheduled for Aug. 3-6 in Tallahassee, Fla.

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