As part of its scramble to pass budget and covid-relief measures before the end of the session, Congress last night approved legislation to create two new Smithsonian museums on the National Mall: the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum. The exciting announcement comes after one Republican senator’s attempt to stall the efforts earlier this month.
With this bill’s passing, each museum will be able to start considering locations, collecting artifacts, and hiring staff. Both will be funded with federal dollars and private donations. It will likely be many years before the doors open to either; it took 13 years for the National Museum of African American History & Culture to go from Congressional authorization to its grand opening in 2016.
The idea for a museum dedicated to the Latino experience in the U.S. started 26 years ago, when an internal Smithsonian report concluded that the institution “almost entirely excludes and ignores the Latino population of the United States.” The task force wrote that it was hard to “understand how such a consistent pattern of Latino exclusion from the work of the Smithsonian could have occurred without willful neglect.” When the report was published in 1994, there were some 25 million Latinos in the U.S.; now the population is more like 60 million.
The recent push for the American Women’s History Museum came in 2016, shortly after Hillary Clinton was not elected as the first female president. A Congressional panel proposed the new museum that lead sponsor Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said would “speak to the world, making it known that Americans value women, equality and the significant contributions of women throughout our history.” Now the Congressional authorization comes just weeks before Senator Kamala Harris will be sworn in as the first female Vice President in the U.S.
Both museums will be exciting new additions to the Smithsonian’s vast collections and are expected to be on or near the National Mall. There’s a dwindling number of potential sites for new museums downtown, but the National Museum of the American Latino might consider taking over the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building. Hopefully in a few years we’ll be seeing Bad Bunny headlining the grand opening.