Culture is a driving force in the Black community here in the United States. The arts, achievements and general humanities of the African diaspora have carried us through times of dreadful bondage and systematic oppression. Our African American Vernacular Language, wrongly called Ebonics, is coined by us for us and often poorly mimicked by the oppressors. Our musical genius has birthed genre after genre, including Rock, Jazz, Funk, and our beloved Hip-Hop, which is the number one genre in the world. Finally, our literature has sought to entertain, inform and rebel through mediums like Black newspapers and street poetry.
Museums in the Black community have historically received less funding than others, leading to a hole in representation. The hole was filled between 1868 and 1991 with the establishment of around 150 African American museums in the U.S., but these museums were often accused of inaccuracy due to funding by racist federal, state, and local government.
So what happens when we fund and curate our own museums?
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in modern cultured museums.
Hip-Hop artist and entrepreneur 2-Chainz had perhaps the most formidable pop-up when he themed a house in Atlanta to mimic his 2017 album “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music.”
The promotional tool famously included a pink stove and pink old school car in its front yard where fans enjoyed taking pictures. After the success of this pop-up, artists and curators in Atlanta decided to create a more established version. This museum is settled in the cities crime-riddled West End and aims to take visitors through the experience that many artists in Hip-Hop discuss and endured. For $10, guests can get the full “Trap” experience popularized by our music.
Here in Houston, we have the African American Selfie Museum which is run and curated by Alex Green and Corey Ivory. The space, which attracts tourists and local citizens alike, was initially intended to be a space for creatives to utilize in collaboration. The owners work with local minority artists to bring a spirit of support into the creative community here in Houston. Co-owner Alex Green stated in an interview with the Forward Times that they “noticed that people charged painters like $600-$800 dollars to host their stuff in a gallery, but if you’re only selling your painting for $1,000 you’re not making any money, so we let them do it here for free.”
After a very successful pop-up for Black History Month, the two creatives decided to turn the upper level of their property into an African American museum via Corey’s creative direction and Alex’s business savviness. The museum space has seven rooms and does a fantastic job at taking you through a flow of different experiences along the way.
Each of the rooms change on a 3-month rotation, but always pay homage to the achievements of Black people and highlight Houston itself in some way.
When asked what inspires the curation of the museum, Corey stated “Childhood, how I grew up. When we first opened in February, we did an installation for Motown, we always listened to Motown in my household… even with Houston, Skrew music you know, I grew up on that so we have a room dedicated to that… I kinda just tied it all in and created a museum based around it.”
The current installations include a painting of a Freedom Riders bus, where visitors can lock arms and remember the sacrifices made by previous generations. There is also a room covered with past editions of the Houston Forward Times newspaper, a Black newspaper in the Greater Houston area that celebrates Black achievement and tells relevant stories for the community. There is even a hall dedicated to Black Greek organizations, better known as The Divine 9.
Since the opening of the largest African American museum in the U.S. in 2016 – the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture – there seems to be an influx of culture-based museums.
The Trap Museum in Atlanta opened in 2017, the African American Selfie Museum opened in Houston in 2018, and now the Universal Hip-Hop Museum is set to break ground in the Bronx, New York, in the winter.
Our choice to fund and curate our museums leads to the showcasing of our culture in all of its flamboyant purity. Be sure to support your culture!