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Museums as Gathering Places
As Executive Director of the Museum of African American History (MAAH) in Boston and Nantucket, Marita Rivero oversees an array of exhibits, public programs, walking tours and historical materials that tell the authentic stories of New Englanders of African descent.
Marita, tell us about your background and how you came to lead the Museum of African American History in Boston and Nantucket.
Public broadcasting and WGBH have been at the heart of my work life. In addition though, I have volunteered at the Museum of African American History in many capacities for over 20 years, and now I have the pleasure of directing it.
African Meeting House Nantucket, source: MAAH
How does MAAH collaborate with other educational and historical institutions to present Massachusetts history?
Every year we create Teacher Institutes for public school educators and community college faculty to support them in translating our exhibits into useful curriculum elements. We work collaboratively with the other historic museums that are part of the Boston National Park to support public educators who want to use our resources, and with other archives and libraries. It has been a pleasure too, to collaborate with area scholars and archeologists in developing lectures, history reports and studies.
What kinds of tourists visit the Museum of African American History and walk the Black Heritage Trail?
Our visitors are global, local, students, retired, group tours and tourists in on cruise ships. They are from various backgrounds and their numbers are increasing. We are approaching 50,000 visitors per year. Many want to understand American democracy, or to dig more deeply into the African American leadership in abolishing slavery and shaping what we recognize as our democracy.
Black Heritage Trail, source: National Park Service
The new Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC is getting tremendous reviews and long lines. Does the MAAH have an affiliation?
Leading up to the opening of the museum, Smithsonian staff spoke to us about our collection, feeling it was national in importance. We participated in several advisory sessions with them in those early planning years as well. Last December our Living Legend Award was given to their Director, Lonnie Bunch, who told the audience he first visited our Joy Street site when he was a graduate student in the Boston area and that visit determined his life’s course. We have both formal and informal relationships with the Smithsonian which we expect will only deepen.
Abiel Smith School, source: MAAH
What role can Massachusetts museums and walking trails have in keeping history alive and relevant in a fast-changing world?
Collections give evidentiary material to the stories of history. We learn to connect our historic past with our present and the coming future. Museums allow us to see ourselves in perspective. In our case, we often are introducing Americans to one another. The Museum is a gathering place.
Thank you, Marita.
For more information about the Museum of African American History, visit maah.org