In 1964 a privately-funded Museum of African Art (MAA) was established by Warren M. Robbins, a former American foreign service officer, at the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, D.C. Robbins served as first Director of MAA, which mounted exhibitions of traditional African artwork and developed educational programs to foster public insight and appreciation of the cultures and artistic achievements of Africa. When MAA became a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution on August 13, 1979, its collections included some eight thousand objects of African sculpture, costumes, textiles, musical instruments, and jewelry; numerous books on African culture and history; early maps of Africa; educational materials; and photographs, slides, and film segments on African art, society, and environment bequeathed to the Museum by world-renowned photographer Eliot Elisofon. In 1981 MAA was renamed the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA). On September 28, 1987, NMAfA moved into its new quarters in the Quadrangle complex on the National Mall.
Warren M. Robbins served as Director of NMAfA until 1982, when he resigned to become Senior Scholar and Founding Director Emeritus of the Museum. Other Directors of NMAfA have included John E. Reinhardt, Acting Director, 1982-1983; Sylvia H. Williams, Director, 1983-1996; and Roslyn A. Walker, Director, 1997- 2002; Sharon F. Patton, Director, 2003--2008; Christine Mullen Kreamer, Acting Director, 2009; and Johnetta B. Cole, Director, 2009-.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Agency History. Record 217832