How to host powerful DEI-aligned events in Washington DC
Fresh concepts, rolling out new directives and coordinating new business objectives can involve complex processes. Hosting an event against a backdrop that compliments the depth and nuance of such details can place attendees in an educational headspace, eager to analyze and absorb new information. And a bit of entertainment doesn’t hurt either. The museums and venues under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institute in the Nation’s capital illuminate the imagination of visitors through history housed in elegance.
Created through an act of Congress passed in 2003, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and is home to over 40,000 artifacts that document and celebrate the contributions made by African Americans. This month, the museum will launch the new immersive experience, “Afrofuturism” (a term coined by scholar Mark Dery) that “reimagines, reinterprets and reclaims the past and present for a more empowering future for African Americans,” according to a statement on the event website. The exhibition is slated to run until March 2024.
“To think on Afrofuturism is to consider what the National Museum of African American History and Culture has long been dedicated to—that is, the bright future that Black people imagined and brought into being while confronting a perilous present,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Afrofuturism has also long been a mix of celebration and resistance, musicality and theatricality, achievement and survival. Much of this mix-making and mythmaking was through music, from the Negro spirituals down to jazz and gospel, funk and hip-hop.”
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The experience will be held in the museum’s Bank of America Special Exhibitions Gallery across 4,000 sq. ft. of space, filled with rarely seen artwork, artifacts and interactive exhibits, allowing guests to experience the history Afrofuturism and the experience of African Americans within American history, culture and popular media.
“This exhibition is a way to look at how Afrofuturism has been practiced throughout history and across the diaspora, and the ways it is expressed, historically and in the present, through art, literature and activism,” according to museum curator Kevin Strait. “We hope that visitors learn more about this topic by seeing the various ways that Afrofuturism connects with and influences our popular culture and gain a broader understanding of Afrofuturism, not simply as a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, but as part of a larger tradition of Black intellectual history.”
Hosting at a National Landmark
Hosting at the Smithsonian provides planners with limitless possibilities surrounded by the historic grandeur of the nation’s capital. The recently renovated branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and National Historic Landmark building, The Renwick Gallery, serves as a pinnacle of elegance and sophistication in Neoclassical architecture and is located just a short walk from the White House. The Renwick Gallery boasts a total of 4,000 sq. ft. of event space and is an ideal venue for hosting dinner or an opulent cocktail reception. The two-story venue features four separate exhibition galleries, along with a centrally located court on the first floor and is contrasted with a large Grand Salon and six smaller galleries on the second floor.
Located in the heart of downtown Washington D.C. and surrounded by some of the best hotels and restaurants D.C. has to offer, SAAM’s Donald W. Reynolds Center, located within the National Historic Landmark building, offers event planners access to 12,000 sq. ft. meeting space. The venue’s Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard and can accommodate up to 1,200 for a reception and 850 for seated dinners.
Luce Foundation Center for American Art sits beneath two balconied levels of distinct architectural elements that overlook a sculpture gallery and is ensconced in over 3,000 works of art. Guests can enjoy the various works of art beneath the center’s skylight stretching the length of an entire city block. The Luce Center can accommodate up to 800 for a reception and 300 for a seated event.
The magnitude of the SAAM’s Great Hall is emphasized through the Victorian style of architecture in a space once used by President Abraham Lincoln who greeted the guests attending his second inaugural ball. The captivating venue features a hand-laid encaustic tile floor beneath towering, vaulted ceilings. The Great Hall can accommodate 366 guests for receptions and 300 for seated events.
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium is fully equipped with film projection capabilities, flexible lighting, a concert grand piano and a sprung stage. The auditorium can accommodate 340.
Exploring DEI in DC
The Black history and culture surrounding DC is evident throughout the community. Planners can take advantage of an extensive list of Black-owned businesses and restaurants in the D.C. area that pull inspiration from every aspect of culture from the African diaspora to styles that are distinctly D.C.
Since being founded in 2007 by Ramunda and Derrick Young, Mahogany Books has offered readers access to an immense list of titles focused on the Black experience. Mahogany Books—named for the Young’s daughter—aims to raise cultural awareness and connect communities through reading and writing. The Youngs opened the first physical location for their bookstore in 2017.
Many destinations boast high-end shopping experiences featuring designer brands, but The Museum offers shoppers the opportunity to get their shopping fix with a non-traditional retail experience. The Museum features designs for those who appreciate the inspiration of art and fashion. In addition, the boutique-style shop allows local and international creators to introduce and market their goods.
The versatile and stylish restaurant, The Park at 14th provides a chic space overlooking D.C.’s historic Franklin Square and serves contemporary American cuisine complimented by Caribbean flavors. Dinner at The Park at 14th is served Thursdays and Fridays and is available for receptions or buyouts. The venue can accommodate banquets for groups of up to 300 and receptions for up to 1,000.
Inspired by his mother’s Kentucky-style Southern cooking, DC native Roger Sherman’s passion for BBQ is evident in every mouth-watering detail of the smoked meats served up by The District Pit BBQ Catering Company since 2016. The District makes it easy for panners to provide a memorable meal with catering options made from locally sourced ingredients. The preparation of meats is carried out with specific types of wood and temperatures for each. The District offers 10 different flexible catering options allowing planners to select the appropriate mains, sides and portions for any group size.