Francisco's Museum of the African Diaspora, located on Mission Street and in the Yerba Buena Arts District, is taking a four-month break this summer for a $1.3 million redesign. Executive Director Linda Harrison took office last December and has provided invaluable leadership, moving and shaking up the 9-year organization.
Coming from a strong business background, she was able to point out the flaws in the museum's programs and position the organization for greater growth. "The board selected me to take the museum to the next level," Harrison said in an interview with the San Francisco Business Times. She added that $303,000 in capital funding for the redesign came from the city, through its Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure Agency, formerly the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency
The museum is shutting down temporarily sometime in June, and will reopen in October. During the hiatus it is hoped that readings, lectures, workshops, panel discussions in San Francisco and across the Bay in Oakland will keep the museum in the public eye.
Even supporters have acknowledged that the shows in the museum have lacked a consistent focus - from exhibits about North African jewelry to a grab bag of art shows. The Museum of African Diaspora emphasizes ways in which the continent of Africa connects all of humanity, including the original "diaspora" of the earliest humans from Africa to nearly every portion of the planet, and the latter scattering of black Africans throughout the Americas due to the slave trade. It is a big chunk of human history for one small museum.
The center "needed a clarification of its purpose," acknowledges board chairman Wade Rose, who is also vice president of external and government relations at San Francisco-based health care giant Dignity Health, a major corporate sponsor of the museum. One of their goals is to get the museum fully accredited, a status it has lacked due to air conditioning problems, of all things, he said.
The hope is that if they build it, people will come. It would be a pity if their grand design does not succeed as the rebuild of SFMOMA, the success of the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the increasing visitors to the Yerba Buena Arts District show that the area is a magnet for cultural activity.