In a city that makes use of every inch of space, a 6,000-square-foot room on the main floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian remained virtually empty for a dozen years. But no more: After a brisk $5 million fund-raising push followed by an eighteen-month renovation, the new oak doors will swing open this week to the Diker Pavilion for Native Arts and Cultures (named for the board co-chairs Charles and Valerie Diker). The inaugural exhibit, “Beauty Surrounds Us,” makes ideal use of the elliptical space, where ten giant display cases are set into the perimeter, housing such kid-friendly artifacts as a girl’s dress made of elk teeth, a sealskin football stuffed with moss, Apache playing cards, a lacrosse stick, and a chief’s extravagantly plumed headdress. The floor is covered in a springy wood to allow for high-stepping indigenous dances (the first public dance social is on October 21) by both the pros and the 300,000 visitors per year who come to see them. How could such grand space at the site of the former U.S. Custom House—an imposing century-old Beaux Arts structure at the foot of Broadway—go neglected for so long? “We just didn’t have the resources to do it,” explains John Haworth, the New York museum’s director. “Back in 1989, an act of Congress created the museum, with monies from the city, state, and federal government, but it wasn’t enough to renovate this raw space.” After 9/11, the board went into high gear and found the funding—good news for us, since Plan B was to relocate the museum to Texas.
Opens 9/23; Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, 1 Bowling Green, nr. Broadway (212-514-3700 or americanindian.si.edu); free admission.