The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore received a $2 million grant from Congress, which will enable the museum to double in size by early 2026. The grant was presented in a ceremony by U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, who secured funding for 15 local projects, including $4 million for the Arena Players and $3 million to upgrade the facilities of the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training. The grant to Great Blacks in Wax will be used to renovate five buildings in the 1600 block of East North Avenue, allowing the museum to expand its collection of 150 wax figures by an additional 100.
Great Blacks in Wax Museum was founded by Elmer and Joanne Martin in the 1980s, and it presents the history of Black Americans through wax sculptures of luminaries such as Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama. The museum occupies 12,500 square feet and has grown over the years, becoming a cultural linchpin in Baltimore. The $2 million grant is game-changing for the museum, allowing it to grow to 25,000 square feet and preserve the front facades of the five buildings it will renovate.
Plans for Expansion and Future of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
Joanne Martin envisions expanding the museum down the entire block of East North Avenue, but the expansion project will be tackled in three phases due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on fundraising campaigns. When the museum reopens in late 2025 or early 2026, it will signal the completion of the first phase. Martin hopes to convert a former mansion at 1649 East North Ave. into a library and genealogical center and add green space and landscaping. This federal investment represents the commitment to sustaining Baltimore’s cultural identity and institutions that will continue to educate young people.