Cover image for A fool's errand : creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the age of Bush, Obama, and Trump
A fool's errand : creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the age of Bush, Obama, and Trump
Physical Description:
xi, 276 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Preface -- What happens to a dream deferred? -- You end as you begin -- Now that you have it, what you gonna do with it? -- Designing a dream -- Finding the stuff of history -- Realizing a dream takes money -- Befriending presidents and managing Congress: a long way from New Jersey -- Exhibiting American history through an African American lens: making a way out of no way -- All in the family: building a community of caring colleagues -- Filling the hole: the challenge of building on the National Mall -- Welcoming America home: The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture -- A first year of surprise and wonder: helping America to remember -- Epilogue.
Founding Director Lonnie Bunch's inside story of how the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture was created. By turns inspiring, funny, frustrating, quixotic, and bittersweet, this is his deeply personal tale of the challenges and rewards of bringing a nationally acclaimed new institution to life. --


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Founding Director Lonnie Bunch's deeply personal tale of the triumphs and challenges of bringing the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to life. His story is by turns inspiring, funny, frustrating, quixotic, bittersweet, and above all, a compelling read.

In its first four months of operation, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture surpassed one million visits and quickly became a cherished, vital monument to the African American experience. And yet this accomplishment was never assured. In A Fool's Errand , founding director Lonnie Bunch tells his story of bringing his clear vision and leadership to bear to realize this shared dream of many generations of Americans.

Outlining the challenges of site choice, architect selection, building design, and the compilation of an unparalleled collection of African American artifacts, Bunch also delves into his personal struggles--especially the stress of a high-profile undertaking--and the triumph of establishing such an institution without mentors or guidebooks to light the way. His memoir underscores his determination to create a museum that treats the black experience as an essential component of every American's identity.

This inside account of how Bunch planned, managed, and executed the museum's mission informs and inspires not only readers working in museums, cultural institutions, and activist groups, but also those in the nonprofit and business worlds who wish to understand how to succeed--and do it spectacularly--in the face of major political, structural, and financial challenges.

Author Notes

LONNIE G. BUNCH III is Founding Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and now Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Prior to becoming the director, he served as the president of the Chicago Historical Society and as the associate director for curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Bunch is also co-author of The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden (Smithsonian Books, 2000) and From No Return: The 221-Year Journey of the Slave Ship São José (Smithsonian Books, 2017)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Like the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History itself, its inaugural director's memoir tells a challenging and ultimately inspiring story of struggle, perseverance, and uplift. Bunch, now secretary of the entire Smithsonian Institution, begins with the new museum's dedication ceremony in 2016 and then bounces back in time to the early twentieth century, when a group of African American Civil War veterans first proposed a place on the National Mall to expand America's knowledge about the black community. Following a brief history of the project's various fits and starts, Bunch focuses on his experience as director of a museum that, when he took the position in 2005, did not exist and how he developed the kernel of an idea into one of the most diversely visited museums in the world. With frankness and optimism, he recounts tireless work fundraising, siting the building, selecting an architect, assembling a collection, and devising narratives to interpret that collection for visitors. Ever the historian, he impressively contextualizes his unique and fascinating adventures within a broad spectrum of recent American events and concerns.--Maggie Taft Copyright 2010 Booklist

Library Journal Review

From its preface through its final pages, this debut by Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), seamlessly weaves the personal and political work that went into envisioning, planning, funding, building, and opening the museum. The author describes his own efforts, noting for instance that he chooses to ride the service elevators in the NMAAHC to interact with all the people involved in its operations, inserting epigraphs from figures as wide ranging as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Winston Churchill, Langston Hughes, and his own grandmother. Throughout, Bunch nudges readers to think about three coeval artifacts, and placemaking or public visibility. These anchor many of his stories and demonstrate the multifaceted impact of the NMAAHC. VERDICT While centering on a specific narrative, this book serves as much more than an overview of the NMAAHC and will not solely appeal to museum curators or academics, as Bunch addresses the ways in which public spaces must be disrupted and dehierarchized to change cultural narratives.--Emily Bowles, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 What Happens to a Dream Deferred?p. 1
Chapter 2 You End as You Beginp. 17
Chapter 3 Now That You Have It, What You Gonna Do With It?p. 43
Chapter 4 Designing a Dreamp. 67
Chapter 5 Finding the Stuff of Historyp. 87
Chapter 6 Realizing a Dream Takes Moneyp. 117
Chapter 7 Befriending Presidents and Managing Congress: A Long Way From New Jerseyp. 137
Chapter 8 Exhibiting American History Through an African American Lens: Making a Way Out of No Wayp. 157
Chapter 9 All in the Family: Building a Community of Caring Colleaguesp. 177
Chapter 10 Filling the Hole: The Challenge of Building on the National Mallp. 195
Chapter 11 Welcoming America Home: The Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culturep. 213
Chapter 12 A First Year of Surprise and Wonder: Helping America to Rememberp. 241
Epiloguep. 257
Acknowledgmentsp. 263
Indexp. 267