January 29, 2009
Since Election Day, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), to open in 2015 on the National Mall, has been busily snatching up Obama campaign memorabilia—including most of the objects in a Falls Church, Virginia campaign office—for a future Obama exhibition. We got the scoop from the museum’s chief curator Jacquelyn Serwer.
Why the Falls Church campaign office?
That office was very instrumental in delivering the state to Obama. They had such a diversity of volunteers. We saw grandmothers and grandfathers, and very young people. They had some teenagers who would be dropped off by their parents to come in and do phoning, especially some of the phoning that was done in a variety of languages. It was very impressive.
We wanted to have the contents of a real campaign office because we are thinking that we may want to recreate an office. What we did was to take as much of the contents of the office as we could—banners, homemade signs, scheduling boards, bulletin boards, the diversity materials. They had a room where people would come to make phone calls in ten languages. We took the furniture, but also the canvassing and phoning notebooks.
And it has been your goal to collect objects from campaign offices in other cities around the country, right?
We’ve got the Obama message wall that was up on the Mall between November 5 and 7; people were invited to make their comments. We have a really terrific couple of hand painted banners from Columbia, Missouri. We have a mural sign from Grand Junction, Colorado. It says “Hope for Theater and the Arts,” and it was painted by a local artist in conjunction with the campaign. We got a collection of campaign buttons from a campaign office in Philadelphia. We’ve gotten stuff from Missouri, . . . Colorado, . . .Alaska, and it’s still coming in. Part of the strategic underpinning of the campaign was that they would campaign everywhere, which is not always the case. So we really want to have materials from all over to give it that national character.
What’s the plan from here?
We think we are close to having the kind of material and as much material as we would need to recreate in some authentic way what those campaign offices were like. Whether we’ll have a preview of that in our exhibition space in the American History museum before we have our building or not is kind of up in the air. We get calls almost every day about something or other, and we’re being very careful to respond and hopefully acquire more material that will make our resources for an Obama exhibition that much more exciting.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.