Moving forward with two new museums

Secretary Bunch explains the next steps involved in the creation of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino.

Last month, the President signed into law the establishment of two new museums, a Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino.The Smithsonian has the expertise to build museums simultaneously, since we have done so before, but make no mistake: it is no easy task. While many details are undefined at this moment, it is important to begin planning and thinking about the process, resources, personnel, and additional next steps that will help us lay a strong foundation for years to come. The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened 13 years after legislation was enacted. The strength of that endeavor’s initial planning ensured the museum’s successful completion and secure future. Despite the inherent challenges these projects pose, I am enthusiastic to begin the creation of two new Smithsonian museums that will enrich Americans’ understanding of our history and ourselves.

It is important to note that no additional appropriations were provided by these authorizing bills. In the coming months and years, the Office of Government Relations, the Under Secretary for Administration, and I will work to inform congressional appropriators and stakeholders of the Smithsonian’s financial needs and challenges. That includes both the impact on our new museums and on all our units, including funding for research and education, collection preservation, infrastructure, facilities, and maintenance. In addition, the Under Secretary for Administration will undertake an extensive review to guide immediate financial decisions and inform future federal budget requests for FY 2022 and the next decade.

As we begin, I have asked Deputy Secretary Meroë Park to lead an internal coordinating committee that will guide our efforts and oversee the first crucial steps of establishing the new museums. These measures include:

  • for the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum, respectively. While different in name, both bodies will serve similar roles to current Smithsonian museum advisory boards and will be appointed primarily by the Board of Regents. Congress directed the Smithsonian to make the initial appointments no later than June 25, 2021 (180 days after the enactment of the legislation).
  • The Smithsonian will launch two national searches for the museums’ founding directors within the next month. We will retain an executive search firm(s) with strong experience fielding candidates with diverse backgrounds. The Smithsonian will also announce interim directors for both museums. These leaders will oversee the launch of our efforts in the short term and serve as advisors during the searches.
  • The selection of a site is one of the most consequential decisions involved in building a museum. The legislation states that the Board of Regents must designate locations for both museums no later than December 2022 (two years after the enactment of the legislation). The Smithsonian will assess the suitability of potential sites, estimated costs, proximity to other buildings and transportation, and external environmental conditions. In addition, the Board of Regents will consult with federal partners such as the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission. To begin this process, we will engage a consulting firm to help us develop a structured and strategic approach to site selections. The chosen firm will help define the requirements, needs, and critical aspects of selecting a site in order to position the new museums for long-term success.

Like you, I recognize that building two museums simultaneously is both daunting and invigorating. This undertaking will require a unified and creative approach that will compel us to reimagine what new museums look like in a post-pandemic world. However, the Smithsonian has the necessary and unparalleled experience to build national museums. Together, we are already doing significant work telling the stories of women and Latinos with the help of the Smithsonian Latino Center, the American Women’s History Initiative, and the collections, exhibits, and programming throughout our museums. We look forward to further amplifying these stories and helping our country learn more about the impact that women and Latinos have had on our nation. In the meantime, we will continue to keep you informed. Thank you for your continued support.

Posted: 21 January 2021
About the Author:

Lonnie G. Bunch III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and is the first historian to be Secretary of the Institution.

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