"We are a very diverse conference" in terms of culture and ethnicity, Schol said. "When we built here in Maple Lawn, we wanted to have ministry partners. When the African Art Museum approached us, we said this is exactly the kind of partner we want."

The museum has an outreach program that takes selected items from the collection to local schools, churches and businesses. It also leads trips to Africa.

For the past several weeks, Ligon and others have been preparing the space in Maple Lawn by moving in display cases, selecting objects to exhibit and creating labels. She said the collection has about 3,000 objects, and there is space to display about 400 at any given time.

Ligon said the museum initially will show a broad sampling of the museum's collection, including objects from collector Harold Courlander and a small, colorful tapestry created by a visiting weaver from Senegal. The most valuable objects are behind glass cases, but many are available to touch and hold.

In the future, Ligon said, she hopes to mount an exhibit exploring the relationship between Maryland and Liberia, a nation on Africa's west coast. She is also open to the idea of collaborating with other institutions.

Even without a sign over the door, the museum has started to receive walk-in visitors and groups by appointment. Throughout the year, it welcomes scholars doing research and groups from schools and churches.

State Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a former Howard County executive who now represents West Columbia, said she is grateful to the people who found and provided the new space.

"I'm sad that it is no longer in Town Center Columbia, because I thought it was a very appropriate place and in keeping with James Rouse's ideals," Bobo said. "But I'm glad they found another place, and I'm sure they will do very well there. I don't think the people in Howard County realize what an exquisite collection they have. We're lucky to have them."

Several recent visitors say they are happy the museum found a new home.

"Once you walk in, it's like being in Africa," said Barbara Speckman, a teacher who visited recently from St. Stephens Christian Academy in Essex. "It's wonderful."

Speckman said she accompanied two dozen summer school students, from grades one to five, and wants to go back in the coming school year with her second-grade students. She said the students especially liked the museum's hands-on nature — they could put on masks and play musical instruments.

"That's what makes it real, when you can touch something," she said. "It makes you really want to be there."

ed.gunts@baltsun.com



African Museum of Maryland



11711 E. Market Place, Fulton

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, one Sunday per month

Admission: Free

Information: 301-490-6070 or africanartmuseum.org

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