The handwriting on the small sticky note is neat and uniform, bearing a message that makes the reader smile with its simple enthusiasm: “My president ROCKS! He provides HOPE!”
It is one of hundreds of similar notes that adorn one wall at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Each one bears a similar sentiment. “Four more years of effort,” reads one. “Forward,” urges another.
This has been a monumental week: The swearing in of our 44th President and the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. And, starting next week, the momentum will roll forward with Black History Month. The Kid (age 5) needed some visual aides to appreciate it all, so we packed up and headed downtown for a mini field trip to the Wright Museum, located in the heart of the city’s brilliant Cultural Center.
Stating the obvious, if you haven’t been to this fine institution lately, you’re going to be as amazed as I was at how much they have added to what already was an impressive place. The latest exhibit, “Visions of Our 44th President,” is what inspired the authors of the sticky notes. And two others – “A is for Africa” and “Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology” – certainly rival any other children’s exhibits in and around the city.
Some background: At 125,000 square feet and with a collection of over 35,000 artifacts, The Wright Museum is the largest museum of African-American history in the world. Its core exhibit, “And Still We Rise,” which seeks to educate and explain the journey of African American history and culture in this country, is one of the most powerful and central experiences the museum has to offer.
In September, The Wright Museum added “Visions,” created in partnership with Our World LLC. A group of 44 contemporary artists used a blank, plain sculpture to interpret their thoughts on the first African-American President. (The display, which will become the museum’s first traveling exhibit, will be at The Wright Museum until August 2013.)
We were the only ones in the exhibit that day, so we took our time looking at every version of President Obama. There are the dramatic, such as the masculine combination of zebra and lion by Preston Jackson. There are the political, including “Is He Black Enough?” a bust by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh with its seemingly wet black paint dripping slowly down one side of the sculpture’s face.
Our favorites were from Preston Sampson and Angelbert Metoyer. Both characterized the bust with a royalty befitting the man they portrayed. Sampson’s grand tribute to the Roman Empire, resplendent with a golden helmet or crown, shone brightly among the exhibit’s dark backdrop.
The other must-see exhibition, especially for families, is the outstanding “Inspiring Minds.” The museum opened up this new area in November, and it is a stunner. Its goal is to highlight the contributions of African Americans in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It particularly focuses on those who have contributed to history, including George Washington Carver and Henrietta Lacks as well as those that are changing our world today, including working scientists, aviators, doctors, inventors and businesspeople.
Visually, it is a treat for the eyes with pictures, video touch screens, computer kiosks, artifacts and more on display. There are multiple areas to touch and feel, making this a great hands-on space for young families. There is a nook complete with a sunny window, comfortable pillows and shelves of books, just right for curling up and sharing stories of the Tuskegee Airmen and more. (I’ll be back to read more about Henrietta Lacks – too bad the February lecture with her son is already full.)
The Kid and I buzzed around this exhibit and the “A is for Africa” displays that fill that level. We played drums, marveled at beaded jewelry, touched an imprint of a giant elephant’s foot and learned all about rhinos. Everything was accessible to her little brain, and she loved seeing the videos and hearing the stories about the animals and cultures of the many African countries.
In February, there are tons of great things to do here as well. Every Saturday, the whole family can participate in Children’s Make, Say & Play Hour, which includes storytelling, performances and workshops. And Charter One is sponsoring its Free Family Second Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10 if you want to see these exhibits and more. And…there is “Meet the Scientist” events (like the one on Feb. 16) where the kiddos can discover and explore science with activities led by scientists and technologists.
Black, white, brown, pink, purple – whatever your color, creed, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality or any other –ity, you’ve got to see the good stuff they have at The Wright Museum. We will be back for another field trip very soon.
The Wright Museum, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Midtown Detroitʼs Cultural Center, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 am until 5 pm, and on Sundays from 1 until 5 pm. Inspiring Minds is free with museum admission, which is $8 for adults (ages 13-61), and $5 for seniors (62+) and youth (3-12). Admission is free for Museum members and children under 3.