Kinshasha Holman Conwill: Bringing Our History to Life
By Yanick Rice Lamb
Kinshasha Holman Conwill is making people cry, laugh and feel all sorts of emotions over the history and culture of Africans in the Americas.
For four decades, Conwill has been committed to sharing our contributions to “all aspects of the American experience.” She has accomplished this in a variety of roles, from director of the Studio Museum in Harlem to her current position as deputy director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
Visiting the Smithsonian’s newest museum is on the cultural bucket list of people all over the world. It has been filled to capacity every day since its grand opening in late September, and admission passes are booked through March with a limited number of same-day passes available online.
Conwill has had a hand in nearly all aspects of bringing the museum to life, tapping into her wealth of experience that also includes stints at the Museum of the American Indian in New York City and the Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House. She is one of many women in leadership and curatorial positions at what some consider the Smithsonian’s crown jewel, and it shows.
The exhibitions have breadth and depth, with a good gender and geographic balance. Visitors will see women who have worked behind the scenes (U.S. Navy Admiral Michelle Howard), as well as those who have been in the public eye (Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine).
Everyday people contributed their hard-earned dollars as well as family heirlooms to the museum’s holdings of 37,000 objects, of which only about 3,000 are on display so far.
Conwill says that helping to bring our history to life brings her “extraordinary pride and humility.”
Yanick Rice Lamb is co-founder and publisher of Fierce