The George Washington Carver Museum, in Austin, is the first neighborhood museum in Texas devoted to African-American history. It collects books, photographs, manuscripts, maps, and other materials that document the history of African Americans, and also presents exhibitions that focus primarily on Black history and culture. The museum is housed in a 1,720-square-foot, city-owned building that originally served as the main public library and was located at the corner of Ninth and Guadalupe streets. In 1933 this building was moved to East Austin, where it became the Austin Public Library's first branch and the first library in town for Blacks. During the mid-1970s East Austin residents successfully lobbied for a larger branch library, which was completed in 1980 on a site adjacent to the old building. Janie Harrison, Fanny Lawless, Onie B. Conley, Ada DeBlanc Simond, and other community members determined that the original building, which in 1977 received a historical marker from the Texas Historical Commission, would be an ideal site for a Black-history museum. Renovations of the old library building began in September 1979, and the museum opened to the public on October 5, 1980.
Each year the Carver museum presents an average of eleven exhibitions, which generally illuminate aspects of African-American history and culture and frequently incorporate photographs and artifacts. Past exhibitions have included The Folk Art of Alma Gunter (1982); From the Grounds Up: A Look at an Historic Austin Community (1983); and Life on the Nile (1992), which focused on the culture of the Nubian tribe in the Sudan. The museum presents annual exhibitions on popular themes such as Texas music and pioneer Austin Black families. The Carver museum provides invaluable support to Black artists by organizing solo exhibitions of their work, and since 1983 has hosted the Regional Black Artists exhibition, an annual event organized by the Black Arts Alliance that attracts painters and sculptors from around the state. The museum occasionally presents exhibitions centered around other cultural heritages, as in the 1990 exhibition The Art of Asking, which featured photographs of home altars made by Mexican-American women.
The museum supplements its exhibition program with educational tours, concerts, storytelling, and other activities. The Carver also operates a Youth at Risk program, in which area youths are taught black-and-white photography during sixteen-week courses that culminate in exhibitions of their work. The permanent collection consists of paintings, prints, family papers, and memorabilia related to Austin African Americans. Because in 1992 the museum was understaffed and lacked adequate exhibition and storage space, its collection at that time was uncataloged and stored at several different sites around Austin.
The Austin Public Library administered the Carver museum until June 1, 1983, when management was transferred to the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. The museum's general operating budget is funded by the city; its 1991 budget was $58,000. Museum memberships, government grants, and donations from corporations and private foundations provide additional financial support, as does the support group Friends of the Carver, which has operated since the museum's inception. Louis Hicks served as curator from 1980 to 1988, after which the post was filled by several interim curators until 1990. By 1992 the Carver museum had developed an ambitious $11.5 million three-phase plan to establish a Black heritage and cultural center with a theater and expanded exhibition and storage space. The Carver Museum is a member of the Texas Association of Museums and the African American Museum Association.