Commission to Study the Potential Creation of the National Museum of the American Latino
The Commission to Study the Potential Creation of the National Museum of the American Latino (popularly known as the National Museum of the American Latino Commission) is an independent commission established by the federal government of the United States in 2008 to study the feasibility of creating a national museum dedicated to highlighting the contributions of American Latinos. The commission released a report in May 2011 calling for federal legislation to establish a museum. Legislation was introduced in Congress in March 2013 to establish the museum.
History of the commission
The idea for a national Smithsonian museum dedicated to the artistic, musical, literary, political, economic, and other socio-economic contributions of Americans with Cuban, Mexican, South American, and Spanish backgrounds (among others) was first broached in the mid-1990s. In April 1993, Robert McCormick Adams, Jr., Secretary of the Smithsonian, and Constance Berry Newman, Under Secretary, appointed a 15-member task force to study the role of and focus on Latinos in Smithsonian Institution budget, collections and exhibits, governance, personnel policies, and programs. On May 10, 1994, the task issued a report, titled Willful Neglect, which concluded that the Smithsonian had ignored the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos in its exhibits and that a new national museum might help to correct the problem.
In 2003, Representative Xavier Becerra introduced legislation to establish a commission to study such a museum. However, the bill did not become law for several years. On May 8, 2008, the Commission to Study the Potential Creation of the National Museum of the American Latino Act of 2007 was signed into law. The law created a 23-member commission whose members were appointed by the President and the leadership of the House and Senate. The commission was authorized to spend $3.2 million over two years, and charged with studying the need for a museum, the museum's vision and purpose, possible governance structure, potential sites, construction costs, and how funds for the museum might be raised. (It is not charged with making proposals about the specific exhibits or content of any museum.) The commission held its inaugural meeting on September 18-19, 2009. Henry Munoz III, a San Antonio, Texas, architect, was chosen as the commission's chairman.
In February 2010, the commission gave a preliminary estimate of $250 million to $500 million for construction alone. The commission hired contractors to help with its feasibility studies. A series of public meetings were held to judge public interest in a museum, and provide input and feedback on the issues under discussion by the commission. In May 2010, commission staff said that the commission was considering a traveling or "virtual" museum, as well as locating the museum in a city other than Washington, D.C.. The commission also heard testimony voicing concern over the use of the word "Latino" in the museum's name.
The commission's report was originally expected in the fall of 2010. However, on April 21, 2011, the New York Times reported that the commission had already settled on a building about 310,000 square feet (29,000 m2) in size, which would be approximately the same size as the $250 million National Museum of African American History and Culture (fund-raising for which is ongoing, and is not yet built). The newspaper also reported that the commission has selected four sites (all of them on the National Mall) for the proposed museum (although three of the sites would be additions to existing museums rather than a stand-alone museum).
The commission issued its report on May 4, 2011. Nine sites were considered for the potential museum, including one on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. But this site, although preferred by the commission, was ultimately rejected due to security concerns and because the land would continue to be owned by the United States Senate and not the Smithsonian. Instead, the report recommended that an underground museum be built on the National Mall next to and below the Arts and Industries Building, with an entrance and introductory displays within a portion of that historic structure. The commission said it would cost $600 million to build and endow the museum, and said that half of this money should be raised from private donors. The commission also said that Congress would not need to provide funding until at least 2017. Fundraising for both construction and the endowment would take a total of 10 years.
Legislative attempts to establish a museum
In mid November 2011, nine members of the Senate and two members of the House of Representatives introduced legislation (H.R. 3459) in Congress to authorize the Smithsonian to establish the new museum and to proceed with planning and fund-raising. On December 8, a group known as the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino announced that actress Eva Longoria and music producer Emilio Estefan had agreed to lead campaign to build support for the museum. The museum proposal drew criticism for encouraging cultural isolationism, for seeking space on the already-crowded National Mall, and for its cost. The 2011 legislation was not acted on, and died at the end of the 112th Congress on December 31, 2012.
On March 15, 2013, new legislation (H.R. 1217/S. 568) was introduced in Congress to designate the Smithsonians' Arts and Industries Building as the site of the museum. The bills, co-sponsored by Senators Bob Menendez, Harry Reid, and Marco Rubio and by Representatives Xavier Becerra and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, would also require the Smithsonian to establish a formal panel to study how to fund the museum and what a construction timeline should be. The bills would not commit the government to build the museum, however. According to the San Antonio Express-News, museum backers already have a design for the proposed museum, and will begin a formal push to win passage of the legislation at the beginning of August 2013.
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- Ayala, Elaine. "Latinos to Congress: Swift Passage of Smithsonian Latino Museum Act." San Antonio Express-News. July 24, 2013. Accessed 2013-07-31.