13 April 2018

Africa: New Director of Smithsonian's African Art Museum Pledges to Work with African Countries

Photo: Franko Khoury, EEPA / National Museum of African Art
Gus Casely-Hayford, new director of the Smithsonian’s African Art Museum.

Collaborating with African countries is a cornerstone of Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford's vision for the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Casely-Hayford is the new director of the nation's premiere museum devoted to the arts of Africa, which many experts consider the single most important collection of African art in the world.

"Our priority first and foremost is to preserve African art," says Casely-Hayford, "our loyalty, even beyond our collection, is to African culture and heritage."

By way of example, Casely-Hayford likes to recount the story of the role that the museum's founder, Warren Robbins, played in the return of a stolen iconic art object to the Kom people of Cameroon. "We genuinely care about people," says Casely-Hayford, and the museum "will return objects when it's the right thing to do".

Casely-Hayford like many Africa experts, recognizes the significant changes taking place on the continent. "African nations are reshaping our future. We want to work with Africa's museums and speak to the world about the genius of African endeavors. We will engage with Africa to change the hearts and minds of people."

Plans include programs for youth around the globe which can be accessed via the Internet including robust social media engagement and the development of curricula that can be used in schools. In addition there will be outreach to African-Americans and collaboration with the incredibly successful Smithsonian Museum of African-American Art and Culture. Casely-Hayford sees a new African and African American renaissance with both groups coming together.

Born in London, Casely-Hayford was educated at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where he received his doctorate in African history. As director of Africa 05 at the British Museum, he organized the largest African arts season in Britain, with more than 150 venues hosting 1,000 events. He is a fellow of the Cultural Institute at King's College London and sits on the board of the Caine Prize for African Writing. A frequent on-air contributor about Africa, Casely-Hayford presented two series of Lost Kingdoms of Africa for the BBC, for which he also wrote the companion book (Bantam Press, Random House, 2012). He delivered a recent TEDGlobal Talk on pre-colonial Africa and is the author of an upcoming book on Timbuktu and the rise of the Mali Empire (Ladybird/Penguin, 2018).

Casely-Hayford succeeds Johnnetta Betsch Cole who retired in March at the age of 81.

Noluthando Crockett-Ntonga is a contributor to AllAfrica.

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