Everything You Need to Know About the Museum of the African Diaspora
For visitors to San Francisco, the Museum of the African Diaspora is a must-see. It tackles one of the most fundamental questions we human beings consider as we ponder our origins: “When did you discover you were African?”
Since opening in 2005, the museum has celebrated the universal connection of all people through their association with Africa, the cradle of humankind. As one of the designers behind the museum, Deborah Sussman of Sussman/Prejza, put it, “MoAD is essentially a place of storytelling. It’s about people and their experiences, rather than a collection of artifacts.”
A Museum with a Mission
Executive Director Linda Harrison adds that since its recent remodeling, the museum is expanding on the original story of the diaspora to focus on artists from various diasporas, whether they be Afro-Cuban, Afro-Asian, Afro-Caribbean, or African-American. Since its inception, four themes have guided MoAD on its mission to help tell the story of the African diaspora:
- Origin - Looking at the African roots of contemporary social, artistic and cultural forms of expression and practices that define the modern diaspora.
- Movement - Tracing the social, cultural and artistic threads of the diaspora through various forms of art.
- Adaptation - Exploring the variety of ways adaptation occurs through creative reinvention, innovation, and cultural resiliency.
- Transformation - Looking at how individuals of African descent have forged new identities, defined their place, and made their mark on new communities and societies.
New and Global Art
With a host of new exhibitions rotating through MoAD annually, the museum always presents a new experience, even for frequent visitors to the museum. The exhibitions aim to represent work that may be under-represented in other U.S. museums. This global intention yields exhibitions that include artists from the Middle East and Africa, as well as artists who may be in the early stages of their career. According to Mark Sabb, MoAD's director of marketing and communications, many of the artists whose work is exhibited at the museum are still living, and they often attend previews and special events at the museum. This accessibility to the artists offers an opportunity that is rare in most institutions. Be sure to check out the Emerging Artists Gallery which supports MoAD's initiative to foster San Francisco Bay Area artists.
A Community Leader
Throughout the year, MoAD has an active community calendar. It is an anchor for celebrations honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. every January and ongoing Black History Month events in February. The museum also offers numerous workshops, film series, panel discussions and its lively chef-in-residence program, which showcases the culinary skills of chef Bryant Terry. He is creating programming that celebrates the intersection of food, farming, health, activism, art, culture and the African diaspora. As a Smithsonian affiliate, MoAD is part of a national network of cultural institutions who partner with the Smithsonian to share resources and expertise.
As you approach MoAD, look up at the “jewel box” glass façade and into the face of a child that shimmers on the surface. Based on a photograph taken by The New York Times’s Chester Higgins, Jr. the three-story mural is, in fact, more than the face of a child; it is the face of many. The mural is comprised of 2,100 photographs submitted by people of the Diaspora, reproduced in 8- by 8-inch squares .
First Floor Gallery
The First Floor Gallery always has an exhibition installed and is located on the corridor which connects MoAD to The St. Regis Hotel San Francisco. Recent installations have included an exhibition of photographs by David Adjaye, the lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and currently has an exhibition devoted to Jimi Hendrix. Access to this area is free and gives visitors an intro to what the museum is all about.
The Toni Rembe Freedom Theater
Films related to current programming and exhibitions are screened in this second floor theater which seats 20 to 30 people. In this darkened theater, no images are projected. Seated on benches, listeners hear narratives by men and women of African descent — including that of noted author, Maya Angelou, who provides an introduction to the nine individuals whose stories are told here. They include Mary Prince, the first black British woman to publish a record of her experiences, and Francis Bok, author of Escape from Slavery, who was kidnapped and enslaved during an Arab militia raid on his village at the age of seven.
I’ve Known Rivers: The MoAD Story Project
This exhibit captures original narratives about people of African descent. Among the first postings is a story about photographer Jack T. Franklin’s work and photo essays on jazz legends. The latest collection (Volume 5) is an effort to preserve the stories of early African American pioneers in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood and pass on the legacy of self-determination to a new generation.
MoAD is located on the first three floors of the St. Regis Hotel, just steps from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Moscone Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and several other museums including the American Bookbinders Museum, California Historical Society, Children’s Creativity Museum and the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
Nearby restaurants include Amber India, situated at the entrance of Yerba Buena Lane; In Situ, chef Corey Lee's base in SFMOMA; The Grill, a stylish restaurant offering Japanese-inspired food in the St. Regis Hotel, and The Grove, noted for their hearty menu offerings. There are also a number of restaurants located along Howard Street, including Samovar Tea Lounge (above Moscone Center); Fogo de Chao, a lively Brazilian steakhouse; Trace, located in the W San Francisco; and Fang, noted for their modern take on traditional Chinese dishes.
685 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Hours: Open Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m. Closed Monday-Tuesday and major holidays.
Admission: $10 (adults), $5 (seniors, students and educators. Free for children (under 12) and active duty military. Advance general admission tickets are available through ARES.
Transportation: Public transit is highly recommended when visiting San Francisco; for detailed transit information, visit www.511.org. The following directions start from 900 Market St., home of the San Francisco Visitor Information Center. BART (Montgomery Street station) is within a few blocks of MoAD; Muni connections include 21-Hayes eastbound on Market Street. Disembark at Third Street and walk one block south.
Accessibility: MoAD is fully accessible via wheelchair. Elevators offer access between all levels. A wheelchair may be borrowed during the visit (subject to availability).
Tours: Groups of 10 to 30 people can be accommodated. Tours last one hour and can be scheduled Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The first tour begins at 11 a.m. and the latest begins at 4 p.m. Group discounts available.
Dining: No food outlets on premises.
Retail: The MoAD Marketplace features small gift items from countries considered part of the African diaspora and includes jewelry, small stuffed animals, books, and music. Coffee buffs can also purchase Red Bay Coffee, a popular “third-wave” roast which includes beans from Tanzania’s Sweet Unity Farms which was started by David Robinson, son of famous baseball slugger, Jackie Robinson.