Smithsonian Builds Temporary Venue for Midwinter Museum Groundbreaking

Photo: Michael Barnes/Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institution broke ground for the National Museum of African American History and Culture at an invitation-only ceremony on Wednesday morning under a heated tent on the National Mall. President Barack Obama spoke, and former first lady and museum council member Laura Bush helped break ground. Opening in late 2015, the museum, which is expected to cost $500 million, will be the only national museum dedicated exclusively to African-American history and culture.

The event was held inside a 30,000-square-foot tent provided by event production company Showcall on the museum’s five-acre site, situated between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “One of the challenges we faced in the planning process was the time of year,” said Nicole Krakora, the Smithsonian Institution’s director of protocol and senior adviser for events and advance. “We had to come up with the creative solutions to build an event venue midwinter with bathrooms and handicap accessibility,” she said of the Smithsonian Institution Core Planning Team.

For a cost-effective solution, Showcall built one tent with drapes to create the divisions needed, including seven hold-rooms for performers, one for the president and one for the reception area. Keeping the audience and online viewers in mind, the stage, which was big enough to hold 100 choir members, was built with a slight curve, and viewing screens as large as 20 feet wide were installed throughout the tent. Showcall also supplied the technical lighting and scenic elements, including signage and restroom trailers—one for V.I.P.s and a separate one for guests—as well as a high-speed Internet connection for streaming the ceremony in high definition.

Upon arrival, guests were prompted to sign in at the registration area, a service provided by Linder and Associates. Catering company Design Cuisine served continental breakfast while guests waited for the ceremony to begin. Among the attendees were more than 600 guests, more than 100 volunteers, 98 choir members, and nearly 100 members of the press. An additional 565 guests watched live from the Smithsonian Institution building nearby, and C-SPAN was also on-site to broadcast the event live.

The president was joined on stage by first lady Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, actress Phylicia Rashad, and members of the museum’s advisory board. Jazz pianist Jason Moran and opera singers Denyce Graves and Thomas Hampson were among the musical performers who also took the stage.

The United States Secret Service provided security while Obama was present, and the Smithsonian Office of Protection Services took over thereafter. Shortly after the ceremony, guests were invited to attend a reception inside the tent with entertainment by the Washington Performing Arts Society and Afro Blue of Howard University, among others.

Occupying the last available space on the Mall, the 380,000-square-foot museum will open in 2015 and include exhibition halls, an auditorium, a cafe, offices, and an education center.

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