Skip to main content

NMAI Web site presents useful information

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

WASHINGTON - Want to visit the newly-opened National Museum of the American
Indian here but not sure when it is open, where it is or how to get in amid
the initial crush of people that want to see it?

It's definitely worth a trip online to the museum site at www.nmai.si.edu
for this and other information, event listings, plus a fascinating
electronic essay on the new building and the philosophy that went behind
the project to put up NMAI as a museum of the Smithsonian Institution on
the National Mall in the nation's capital.

For instance, you can reserve a date and time on the Web site, for a
service fee of $1.75 per ticket, for a visit during the first couple of
months, which are expected to be jam-packed. If you are in D.C. for only a
short time, this will ensure you not being turned away and having to wait
for your next trip to Washington. (Hours are 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. every day,
9 p.m. on Sept. 22, closed on Christmas day, and the museum is located at
Fourth Street and Independence Ave., in the Southwest (SW) section of the
capital.)

The Web site also contains information on NMAI satellite branches in New
York City (a full-fledged museum of its own), and its warehouse facility,
the Cultural Resources Center, in Suitland, Md., a Beltway suburb of
Washington.

Why does NMAI have not one but two museums? Clicking on the site for the
George Gustav Heye Center in lower Manhattan can give some clue. Heye was
an indefatigable collector of Indian artifacts and ran a national American
Indian museum in New York until his death in 1957. Thousands of artifacts
were transferred to the NMAI site prior to its opening in 1994, and
starting in 1999, many thousands have been transferred to the Suitland
facility, where they are being photographed and put into a database.

The CRC will have an open house Sept. 20, 22 and 24 in honor of the opening
of the museum on the National Mall. Public tours will resume next month.

The Web site can also tell you how to become a member (annual memberships
begin at $20), and has resources for teachers wanting to give accurate
portraits of Indian history. NMAI even has teaching materials and a list of
recommended books.

Want to work at the museum? There are four internships available for
students, who will work 20 to 40 hours per week for 10 weeks, according to
the site. Stipends are also available for visiting indigenous scholars from
abroad. These are for fulltime work.

There is also an admirably concise but detailed history of the philosophy
behind the NMAI project and details about what is behind the physical
layout of the building. The site says that NMAI had "hundreds" of
conversations in the early 1990s with Native people "about how the museum
should present the stories and customs of their communities." Through this
process, "the museum seeks to address and reach beyond misconceptions and
stereotypes of Native American cultures and peoples to illuminate how
Native Americans perceive their place- spiritually, historically and
physically - in the universe."

Through these conversations, NMAI got some sense of what the place should
be, especially its "intuitive" nature. "It needed to be a living museum,
neither formal nor quiet, located in close proximity to Nature. Another was
that the building's design should reflect the solar calendar and equinoxes,
with an eastern orientation and entrance."

A lot of this material appeared in a 1991 document called "The Way of the
People", and it would be a plus if NMAI added a hot link to this reference
and reproduced the document electronically, so that visitors to the site
can read more about Native participation in design and philosophy.

Some of the elements of Native design sensibility, according to the site,
are that "the paving pattern for the plaza area outside the main entrance
plots the configuration of the heavens on November 28, 1989, the date that
federal legislation was introduced to create the museum. The center of the
plaza is the pole star, Polaris. The museum's south-entry plaza records
lunar events and, inside the building, the Potomac celebrates the sun."