The Smithsonian Board of Regents on Thursday released its recommendations for the optimal sites to place the proposed National Museum of the American Latino and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum.
Both sites are on the National Mall, a location that the museums’ promoters have lobbied for, despite some political opposition.
“As of today, we are one step closer to achieving the dream of a long-awaited Latino Museum and Women’s Museum,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.).
“I am absolutely thrilled to see the Smithsonian Board of Regents has supported selecting the Tidal Basin and South Monument sites for both museums. The prominence of either of these locations will mean that millions visiting our nation’s capital will be able to experience — whether through exhibits, educational programming or cultural celebrations — how our stories are fundamental to the complete history of America.”
Still, the Board of Regents’ recommendation is not a final site selection.
“Legislative action is necessary before the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents can make its final designations,” the Board wrote in a press release.
That’s because the legislation approving both museums banned construction in what’s called “The Reserve,” essentially a no-build-zone surrounding the National Mall.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) pushed for that ban, but the museum’s promoters see potential for a bipartisan group to approve the site selection in budget negotiations over the lame-duck session.
“Congress has an opportunity to follow the same model that they pursued in 2020 with the omnibus; they got both museums over the finish line,” said Estuardo Rodríguez, president and CEO of the Friends of the Museum of the American Latino.
The board’s recommendation, while not binding, gives the museums’ promoters the green light to push Congress to exempt the projects from the construction ban in the Reserve.
“Now, our community can focus in a united fashion to support the approval of this site by an act of Congress, which must happen this year,” said the Latino Museum’s board chair, Henry Muñoz.
“Our board thanks the Smithsonian Institution and looks forward to the day when we open doors to this important new American institution alongside the great museums on the land that is the National Mall, where American stories are told. Today, alongside our sister museum which honors and celebrates the rich history and impact of American women, we are one step closer to our dream,“ Muñoz added.
If Congress doesn’t approve the sites during the lame-duck session, the can would be kicked down the road to the next Congress, which would force both museums’ promoters to start their lobbying process from square one.
Still, the Board of Regents’ recommendation is another step forward in a multiyear process that’s seen its fair share of ups and downs.
In September, President Biden gave the museums a significant boost when he called for them to be built first in Washington, D.C., and weeks later, on the National Mall.
Biden’s call mirrored a similar appeal years earlier by former President George W. Bush, whose support was a key step to placing the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on the Mall.
The NMAAHC faced similar legal challenges for its construction, and that project was inaugurated more than 90 years after it was first proposed.
The two sites recommended for the Latino and Women’s museums are across the Mall from the NMAAHC, a smaller site known as the South Monument site near the Washington Monument on Independence Ave., and a larger site on a rugby field, known as the Tidal Basin site, across the street from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“I am committed to supporting legislation to enable the Smithsonian to move full steam ahead toward construction on the South Monument and Tidal Basin sites. The new museums will be vital additions to the Smithsonian that will allow us to tell a more complete story that recognizes the remarkable contributions of women and Latinos who have helped shape our nation,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a key promoter of the women’s museum.