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What Special Exhibitions Are at the National Museum of the American Indian in NYC?

Wondering what special exhibitions are at the National Museum of the American Indian in NYC? The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian resides in the stately Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at the tip of Manhattan. This lesser-known museum contains an arresting collection of art and artifacts from the native tribes of North, Central, and South Americas, as well as the Caribbean. Next time you’re around Battery Park, take a trip through the National Museum of the American Indian and learn about diverse native tribes from thousands of years ago through the present. Below are exhibitions showing this spring and summer at the museum—oh, and did we mention admission is free?

national museum american indian

National Museum of the American Indian: Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed

Cerámica de los Ancestros presents historical and contemporary ceramics from the regions of modern-day Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. From religious anthropomorphic vessels to functional bowls and vases, these 150 pieces are culled from the museum’s collection of over 12,000 objects. This bilingual exhibition is presented in both English and Spanish. Through May 20.

National Museum of the American Indian: Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound

kevin mckenzie father son holy ghost

Kevin McKenzie, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, 2015 (detail). Cast polyurethane, acrylic, neon. Collection of the artist. Photo: Joshua Voda/NMAI.

In Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound, you’ll see the work of Native American visual artists working today. This exhibition focuses particularly on experimental video and unique light installations, all of which touch on the liminal space occupied by native people in modern culture. Included are the experimental videos of artists like Nicholas Galanin and Jon Corbett, light installations by Kevin McKenzie and Marianne Nicolson, and others. Through Jan. 6, 2019.

National Museum of the American Indian: Circle of Dance

Dancing represents an irreplaceable spiritual and cultural expression throughout Native American tribes. In Circle of Dance, the museum will showcase a variety of native dances, from the Yakama Girl’s fancy shawl dance to the Seminole stomp dance. This exhibition includes mannequins in a variety of traditional dress associated with specific tribal dances, in addition to photographs, video, and other artifacts depicting the dances themselves. Through April 2019.

National Museum of the American Indian: Infinity of Nations

Muisca clay head, Colombia

Muisca clay head, Colombia, A.D. 1200–1600. Clay, paint.

This permanent collection at the museum expresses the geographical scope of diverse Native American history, with artifacts from North, Central, and South America. Standout pieces include a blue-and-white Kayapó ceremonial headdress; an anthropomorphic Shipibo boat from Peru; and an early Anishinaabe man's outfit with headdress, leggings, shirt, sash, and jewelry. Ongoing.

National Museum of the American Indian: Taíno: Native Heritage and Identity in the Caribbean

Before European colonization and the subsequent advent of the slave trade throughout the Caribbean islands, indigenous people called the Taíno inhabited islands like Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Denizens of the Caribbean are now gathering and studying Taíno history and culture, an effort cataloged in part with Taíno: Native Heritage and Identity in the Caribbean. The exhibition includes current and historical photographs of those with native ancestry, as well as prints and other artifacts honoring Taíno heritage. July 28, 2018 through October 2019.

The National Museum of the American Indian is located at One Bowling Green and is open 10am to 5pm daily and Thursdays 10am-8pm. Admission is free. Call 212-514-3700 or visit to learn more.

About the Author

Merrill Lee Girardeau grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. The recipient of a BA in English and an MFA in Writing, Merrill Lee teaches English to college students and lives in Brooklyn.

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