Plans for national Latino museum on Mall move forward - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Plans for national Latino museum on Mall move forward

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Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 1:15 pm

WASHINGTON - A new report moves plans for a Latin American museum on the Mall a step ahead.700.

Latino museum recommended as part of Smithsonian Most people who walk past the grassy, 5-acre patch in the shadows of the U.S. Capitol see a vacant lot.

But others look at the site on the National Mall and see the future home of a museum where tourists will come to learn about the nation's 52 million Latinos and their contributions to art, culture and history.

It will be, in the words of a commission that did an exhaustive study on the proposed facility, "a museum that illuminates the American story for the benefit of all."

"I've always said there is no place better in America than the National Mall to give anyone -- not just Americans, but anyone in the world -- an idea of what it means to be an American," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.

Becerra has been working for years to establish the National Museum of the American Latino. Though such a museum is still years away, planning for the facility took a significant step forward two weeks ago with the release of a report that laid out in detail how the $600 million project could happen.

The report, ordered by Congress and prepared by a 23-member commission that included prominent Latinos, recommended the museum be built on the National Mall site near the Capitol and suggested it should be part of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution.

"Not only do I think it's doable," Becerra said of the museum, "I think the commission made it clear that it is doable."

The museum, as envisioned in the report, would provide a home for the historical artifacts, images and personal stories documenting more than 500 years of Latino contributions to what eventually would become the United States.

Nearly 360,000 square feet would be needed for the structure, which would include public spaces, galleries, storage and offices.

Exhibits could include artwork, books, furniture, clothing, scholarly papers, film, archival materials, archaeological artifacts and oral histories. One possible exhibit, the report says, could be the small bedroom in which Cesar Chavez staged a 25-day hunger strike to draw attention to the plight of farm workers.

Others who would likely be featured include baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente; Desi Arnaz, who pioneered TV studio filming techniques; and Roberto Goizueta, who became worldwide chairman of The Coca-Cola Co.

The museum also would be equipped with study and research facilities open to the public and would offer a number of public programs, such as concerts, performances and festivals that highlight the traditions of individual cultures.

At least $300 million for the museum could be generated through private fundraising, a goal the report says could be achieved over 10 years. Congress would have to appropriate the other $300 million, which could be a challenge given the focus in Washington on cutting government spending.

Still, "I think there is an enthusiasm and an optimism that we can get there in this public-private partnership," Becerra said.

First, Congress must decide whether it wants to move forward with the project. If so, federal lawmakers will have to designate a location for the museum and decide whether it should become part of the Smithsonian Institution, said Dennis Vasquez, a spokesman for the museum project.

Becerra and others who have been pushing for the new museum have argued it should be placed on the National Mall, where there are other museums that chronicle virtually every aspect of the American experience. The mall's newest museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, opened in 2004. A museum dedicated to African-American heritage is expected to open in 2015.

The report doesn't spell out a time frame for opening the museum, but Vasquez said the earliest it could conceivably be completed would be in nine or 10 years.

Other museums that are similar in scope have taken years to complete, he said, pointing to the new African-American museum as an example.

Groundbreaking for that museum is set for 2012, and it's expected to open in 2015 -- 12 years after a feasibility report on the project was first submitted to Congress.

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