It's not the first place you'd expect to linger with a nice cup of tea beside a warm fireplace. But relax you can at the African American Museum of Nassau County's newly opened Mosaic Tea Room in Hempstead. The bright, airy space is among the first changes the museum has made as it prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2011.
"Our idea is to bring people to the museum and give them a reason to stay awhile," says tearoom manager Marilyn Monroe. Another excuse to loiter: browsing a revamped gift shop that now features artwork, pottery, clothing and accessories, much of it from artists exhibiting in the museum's galleries.
Such upgrades are intended to accompany - not overshadow - the museum's rotating collections and special exhibits, says director-curator David Byer-Tyre.
"We want the museum to be an experience," he says. "We want people to come again and again."
Tea with purpose
With pendant lighting, cozy window seating and brightly colored tiles, Mosaic looks every bit the part of Starbucks. It offers 12 teas daily ($4-$6 per pot), along with desserts, cookies and pastries ($1-$5) commissioned from local bakeries.
Seating is within view of the museum's large exhibit space, where patrons milled on a recent weekend afternoon.
"I think it is lovely to be in this setting enjoying a cup of tea," said Florence Simmons a high school principal in Uniondale and a resident of Jamaica, Queens, who was lingering over a second cup with friends. "Drinking tea like this makes the time special."
A thoughtful shop
The new gift shop has been enlarged and reworked to include a well-curated collection of handmade or otherwise special merchandise.
"We had things to buy, but nothing really relevant to art," Byer-Tyre said of the previous shop. Now the shelves and display cases hold African pottery ($20-$150), ethnic purses and jewelry designed by an artist who is a Republic of the Congo native and clothing made from African cloth ($18-$70). Eventually, Byer-Tyre said, the museum will ask exhibiting artists to offer at least one big-ticket piece for consignment at the shop.
Growing for the future
Even though two commercial ventures have been added, Byre-Tyre said the museum's primary focus is still to function as a space to showcase artists, appreciate culture, teach history and gather community members. Other upgrades include an education center, an auditorium equipped for film screenings and a record studio.
"We're not leaving our cultural focus behind," Byre-Tyre said. "We just want the public to see the range of things we're planning for 2011 and beyond."
"The 40th Anniversary Exhibit"
Through Feb. 26. A retrospective of past exhibits, it features works by Frank Frazier, the first exhibitor when the museum opened in its current site in 1983.
Through March 30
Traditional and contemporary African art that includes sculptures, watercolors, antique African-American dolls and portraits of hairbraiding. Pieces are from the museum's permanent collection, with the focus on artists from Zimbabwe.
African American Museum of Nassau County
110 N. Franklin St., Hempstead
INFO 516-572-0730, aamoflongisland.org
HOURS Noon-8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, by appointment Monday. Closed Sunday.
ADMISSION Donation (for group rates, contact museum)