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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, DC, is holding a two-week festival to celebrate its centenary. The event, until 13 May, also marks Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Over 30 different cultures will be represented in events in and around the museum, including a kimchi-making class, Bollywood dancing and a performance by K-Pop star Eric Nam. Local Asian-owned business will provide lunch every day and there will be regular curator-led tours of the collection.
The festival is the first of a year-long series of events. The museum was founded in 1923 as the Freer Gallery of Art with the donation of 9,500 objects collected by Charles Lang Freer. Its purpose-built space on the National Mall next to the Smithsonian Castle was the United States’ first national museum of art.
As the Smithsonian adds more institutions devoted to different communities in the US, the festival is part of an attempt to bring Asian American people into closer connection with the museum, its director, Chase Robinson, says in a statement. “Our vision is to transform the National Museum of Asian Art into a space where a wide range of visitors can come together to celebrate, learn about and interact with Asian art and cultures, including their intersection with America.”
New displays confront head-on the fact the museum was founded with the collection of a white industrialist, holds a large collection of work by a white painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (including his famed Peacock Room), and was created due to the personal intervention of the now-controversial US president Teddy Roosevelt.
“It is not a museum that is about identity as such, but it is a museum that is increasingly engaged with serious and sometimes difficult questions about our past,” says Robinson. “And we are also very much interested in listening to Asian American communities and working with them to do a better job of representing their interests.”
The Freer and the adjoining Arthur M. Sackler Gallery were rebranded as the National Museum of Asian Art in 2019 to help visitors understand what the collection holds and to reflect the longstanding administration of the two galleries as one museum.