A series of six green copper domes cover the tiny entrance to the National Museum of African Art off the National Mall. Three underground levels radiate off central dueling staircases into hushed galleries of sculptures, wooden masks, paintings, clay and beaded jewelry, maps and textiles from nearly every country on the African continent. Most of the permanent collections are on the first and third sublevels.
Over 9,000 objects comprise the collections and recent ongoing and rotating exhibits have included films by African artists depicting interpretations of time; immersive sound pieces that transport visitors to Balogun, an open-air market in Lagos, Nigeria; and historical art from Sub-Saharan Africa. The second sublevel has workshop space and an auditorium where performing dance troupes, lectures, films and interactive traditional crafting workshops are sometimes held.
Before moving to its current location in 1987, the museum was housed in a townhouse once owned by the former slave-turned statesman, Frederick Douglass. Under the Smithsonian umbrella, it is the largest public collection of African art in the US.
The National Museum of African Art is located just off the National Mall behind the Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle) and across from the National Museum of Natural History. Its third sublevel connects to neighboring Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Entrance is always free and hours are from 10am-5:30pm daily except Christmas Day. The entrance is within short walking distance of the Smithsonian Metro stop on the orange, silver and blue lines. Docent-led tours are occasionally offered; check the Smithsonian calendar or the Information Desk inside the museum for current tour info.