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African Art Museum celebrates 36 years

African Art Museum celebrates 36 years
Doris Ligon is the director of the African Art Museum of Maryland located in the Maple Lawn development in Fulton, Maryland. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

When Doris and Claude Ligon first talked about opening an African art museum in Columbia over 36 years ago, they knew it was not a well-known subject. One friend even warned Doris to reconsider, she said.

"They told me, 'I don't know about that African art. It's got that voodoo in it,'" Ligon chuckled.

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The museum was the first of its kind when it opened in Columbia in 1980. It relocated to Maple Lawn six years ago. Its small space is filled with both art and information, according to Abram Engelman, a board of trustees member.

"It is a wonderful entity," Engelman said, of the African Art Museum. "[Ligon] makes incredible use of the space. It is very tastefully done and well presented."

An anniversary celebration is planned for Oct. 9, from 2 to 5 p.m., at the museum. The "Art and All that Jazz" event will feature a jazz concert, mini bazaar and refreshments. An African art show presented in different languages will also be part of the activities, Ligon said.

"We have a lot in the time slot," Ligon said. "It will be a fun, hopefully pleasurable, experience."

The museum Ligon founded with her late husband, started with only a few pieces of art, Ligon said, and one important ingredient – hospitality.

"Everybody who walks through this door is treated with dignity," Ligon said. "We want people to come in here. We are a very friendly museum."

The museum now has over 3,000 pieces in its collection. While many of those pieces are museum-like quality, there are several masks and pieces of artwork that are hands-on and just as important to the museum, according to Ligon.

"Always in our exhibits we have some hands-on pieces throughout," Ligon said. "People like to touch African art. They have the opportunity to pick-up pieces."

From the start, Ligon has done her best to educate people about African art. She travels to local schools, senior centers and businesses to give presentations and welcomes groups to the museum. Her motto is "Have Art, Will Travel."

"Understanding African art is for everybody," Ligon said. "I'm not there to show me off. I'm there to talk about Africa. To know African art is to understand the people, understand why they do things. If you understand, it is the first step toward friendship."

Most of the museum's collection is in storage due to lack of space, Ligon said. She admits she would love to raise more money to open in a larger space, and hopes the anniversary celebration is a success.

"If you have an event, whoever comes, that makes the party. If people don't come, you don't have a party," Ligon said. 'If 10 people come or 1,000, you've done the best you can. I will be sorry if only 10 people come."

Engelman is looking forward to celebrating the museum's anniversary.

"I watched it from the beginning," Engelman said, of the museum. "The commitment never ends," he added, of the Ligons. "I'm in awe of their efforts all these years."

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"Art and All that Jazz" will take pace on Oct. 9, from 2 to 5 p.m., at the African Art Museum of Maryland, 11711 E. Market Place, Maple Lawn, Fulton. Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door. For more information, call 301-490-6070.

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