In the former sanctuary of Mount Moriah Church, state and local leaders and museum officials celebrated yesterday the long-awaited expansion of the state's first African-American history museum.
The Banneker-Douglass Museum, which opened in the historic church on Franklin Street in Annapolis nearly 20 years ago, will grow to more than double its size when a $5.5 million addition is completed. Construction begins next week.
In late December, supporters expressed concern that the expansion had been delayed and said they feared that the small museum would soon be eclipsed by the 82,000-square-foot Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, set to open in Baltimore next year.
But yesterday, a who's who of dignitaries showed their support for the Annapolis project. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele called yesterday's groundbreaking a "great moment in Maryland history." He said the museum is one that has "sat quietly on this street for many years, gone unnoticed by many in the community and the state."
Steele, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings were among the elected officials who spoke at the ceremony.
Wendi L. Perry, the museum's director, said after the event that she hoped everyone realized "that the museum is going to continue on" and that its future is not threatened by plans for the larger Baltimore museum, to which the Banneker-Douglass plans to lend artifacts.
"There are so many ways to tell the stories," she said, adding that the Baltimore museum will be more national in approach. "The stories we tell are more intimate and community-based."
The Banneker-Douglass museum operates under the Maryland Commission of African-American History and Culture and is administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. It is more of a repository than a museum, Perry said. Its collection of more than 6,000 historic objects and photographs has been mostly stored off-site because of lack of space.
The new wing, funded by the state and expected to be completed by fall next year, will add nearly 12,000 square feet to the approximately 9,000-square-foot museum, which drew about 30,000 visitors last year.
The first floor of the addition will feature a gallery for temporary exhibits, including art exhibits. The second floor will showcase the museum's permanent collection. And the third floor will provide office and storage space, Perry said.
Archaeological discoveries from the empty lot where the addition will be built will be the subject of one of the first exhibits, Perry said.