Smithsonian identifies four potential sites for planned Latino and women’s history museums

Final Four

Smithsonian identifies four potential sites for planned Latino and women’s history museums

The Smithsonian Institution’s Arts and Industries in Washington, D.C. pictured in 2015. The historic National Mall-flanking structure is one four sites under consideration for two new Smithsonian museums authorized by Congress in 2020. (Mike Procario/ Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Smithsonian Institution has narrowed down its ongoing search for two individual sites in Washington, D.C., that will serve as the respective future locations of the planned National Museum of the American Latino and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum. As announced by the Smithsonian Board of Regents, a total of four D.C. sites, including the historic Arts & Industries Building, are now under consideration, all of them adjacent to the National Mall. Following the authorization of both museums by Congress in 2020, the Smithsonian undertook what it described in a news statement as a “extensive site-selection analysis and thorough review” of 26 different potential sites divided into two distinct tiers based on feasibility.

Joining the 1881 Arts & Industries Building on Jefferson Drive NW are three undeveloped parcels of land: one just north of the Capitol Reflecting Pool that’s under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Capitol; one on Jefferson Drive SW across the National Mall from the National Museum of African American History and Culture that’s under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS); and the last, also under the jurisdiction of the NPS, at the Tidal Basin between Raoul Wallenberg Place SW and Maine Avenue SW. As noted by The Washington Post, the Tidal Basin site is currently home to a rugby field.

The National Historic Landmark-designated Arts & Industries Building, which reopened the public for the first time in nearly 20 years last November for the special FUTURES exhibition, is the only location under control of the Smithsonian.

Baltimore-based architecture and engineering firm Ayers Saint Gross is aiding the Smithsonian in the evaluation effort, which must be completed—and the two final selections announced—by the end of this year in accordance with the museum-authorizing legislation passed in 2020. As also mandated by the legislation, Smithsonian officials will consult with a range of entities—the National Capital Planning Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the Architect of the Capitol, and members of Congress—during the site evaluation process.

This final site selection process follows a robust engagement period, including a total of nine focus sessions—four for each museum and one for both— that brought together “stakeholders from civic groups and community non-profits, government leaders, congressional representatives, artists, performers, educators, museum professionals and potential donors,” per the Smithsonian.

As detailed in the news release, a host of criteria will come into play when evaluating the four potential museum sites: The symbolism of the location, costs, existing site conditions, transportation, environmental factors, and, last but not least, acquisition potential.

“Selection of a site is one of the most consequential decisions for a museum,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch. “It is important that the steps we take ensure a transparent, inclusive, and thorough process.”

Speaking to the Post, Bunch explained that while finalizing a museum site is a daunting and complex act within itself, the fact that there is extremely limited available space in and around the National Mall has made this particular effort considerably more challenging, not to mention the fact there are two museums at play simultaneously.

“It’s kind of like having kids. You have two kids, it’s not just twice the work,” he said. “You want to make sure each museum feels they have been given the respect, the attention, the visibility they deserve.”

The last two Smithsonian-operated museums to open along the National Mall were the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, and the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004. The final decision on locations for the two newest Smithsonian museums will be made by the Board of Regents.