"Everyday Black" at Northwest African American Museum, January 11, 2018


By Carla Bell
January 8, 2018

With just three months at the post, Eve Sanford, the new Education & Public Programs Director at Northwest African American Museum, shows zeal and confidence. Sanford, a visual arts graduate with a Master’s in Arts Leadership and an MFA in Nonprofit Arts Management, brings 17 years of education and experience at a significant time.

This year NAAM, founded in 2008, celebrates its tenth year in operation. Sanford and her colleagues are busy with an agenda they’ve coined Project Refresh – revising and developing existing programs, adding new ones, and managing building improvement projects while tending to the usual business of museum exhibits, events, and visitors.

Everyday Black, NAAM’s first exhibit of the new year, opens this week. The show was curated by C. Davida Ingram, one of the most influential Seattleites of 2017 (Seattle Magazine) and Leilani Lewis, Assistant Director, Diversity Communications Outreach at the University of Washington, and member of the Board at NAAM. The show features photographic works of Jessica Rycheal and Zorn B. Taylor, and highlights intersections within blackness. All are welcome to the exhibit’s Saturday evening opening reception.

NAAM’s mission is “to spread knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the histories, arts and cultures of people of African descent for the enrichment of all”. In 2018, we’ll see this accomplished in new ways – beyond their usual focus on Black history, but also Black futures, and the African diaspora, Sanford says. In February, NAAM will introduce Black Futures Month, a new and improved rebrand of Black History Month that will deliver art and culture by three distinct pathways – Critical Dialogue, Health and Wellness; and Black Joy – and this will carry forward throughout the year.

Critical Dialogue, in cooperation with community partners the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) and the Seattle Art Museum, will look at the reasons behind segregation of Seattle musician unions, and then discuss who’s making history and who’s recording it. Intentional Health and Mindfulness will incorporate activities like Black Being Gentle, a Yoga by Biola yoga series and MixxedFit with Randy Ford. And most definitely Black Joy – parties and gatherings celebrating living Black and happy. Follow NAAM’s calendar of events for more details.

Curious about the impacts of gentrification on the museum, I asked Sanford, a Chicago native, for her perceptions. “It’s definitely evident in the neighborhood”, she said. “It looks the same here as in Chicago. It doesn’t feel as drastic here though, because it’s on a much smaller scale. Housing projects are replaced by luxury condos. Blacks on the south side. Whites in the north”. Blacks make up just 7.5% of Seattle residents, but 32% in Chicago. The greater share of NAAM’s visitors are White.

The museum is sustained in large part by corporate donations and grants from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft, and Seattle Office of Arts & Culture to name a few, but another vitally important aspect of NAAM’s sustainability is event hosting and space rental for private gatherings.

Don’t miss NAAM’s Jean Shy Ferris Reading Room where comfy chairs await and the shelves are stocked with great reads on politics, the arts, and more. They’ve even dedicated a space to the discovery of ancestral history, offering computer technology and other resources to aide in genealogical research. Visit the gift shop, too, because who doesn’t need It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop or A Very Modern Dictionary “to keep your culture game on fleek”?

NAAM for me provides a cherished and emotional experience. Painful reminders of the Middle Passage, a sprinkling of victories along the timeline of Blacks in America, awe at the natural talent, beauty, and variety of form in Black storytelling, pride in every bit of our Black distinctiveness, a renewed energy about this Black community we’re building, and hope.


Carla Bell is a Seattle-based writer and abolitionist engaged in restorative justice and civil rights advocacy, supporting community resilience and healing, and a perpetual student of arts and culture.