The Smithsonian Institution has narrowed down its ongoing research to two individual sites in Washington, D.C., which will serve as the project’s respective future locations. National Latin American Museum and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum. As announced by the Smithsonian Board of Regents, a total of four DC locations, including the historic Arts & Industries Building, are currently under consideration, all adjacent to the National Mall. Following the authorization of the two museums by Congress in 2020, the Smithsonian undertook what it described in a Press release as an “in-depth site selection analysis and in-depth 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 which is under the jurisdiction of the United States Capitol; one on Jefferson Drive SW across from the National Mall from the National Museum of African American History and Culture which is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS); and the last, also under NPS jurisdiction, at the Tidal Basin between Raoul Wallenberg Place SW and Maine Avenue SW. As noted The Washington Post, the Tidal Basin site currently houses a rugby pitch.
The National Historic Landmark-designated Arts & Industries Building, which reopened to the public for the first time in nearly 20 years last November for the special FUTURE exhibition, is the only place under the control of the Smithsonian.
Baltimore-based architecture and engineering firm Ayers Saint Gross is helping the Smithsonian with the evaluation effort, which is due to be completed – and the two final selections announced – by the end of this year, according to to legislation licensing the museum passed in 2020. As also mandated by the legislation, Smithsonian officials will consult with various entities – the National Capital Planning Commission, the U.S. Fine Arts Commission, the Architect of the Capitol, and members of Congress – during the site evaluation process.
This final site selection process follows a period of robust engagement, including a total of nine town hall meetings – four for each museum and one for both – which brought together “stakeholders from civic groups and organizations community nonprofits, government leaders, congressional officials, artists, performers, educators, museum professionals and potential donors,” according to the Smithsonian.
As detailed in the press release, a host of criteria will come into play when evaluating the four potential museum sites: location symbolism, costs, existing site conditions, transportation, environmental factors and , last but not least, the acquisition potential.
“Selecting a site is one of the most important decisions for a museum,” Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch said. “It is important that the steps we take ensure a transparent, inclusive and thorough process.”
Addressing the JobBunch explained that while finalizing a museum site is a daunting and complex act in itself, the fact that there is extremely limited space available in and around the National Mall has made this particular effort considerably more difficult, without talk about the fact that there is of them museums in play simultaneously.
“It’s a bit like having children. You have two kids, it’s not just twice the work,” he said. “You want to make sure that each museum feels it has received the respect, the attention, the visibility that it deserves.”
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 the locations of the two new Smithsonian museums will be established by the Board of Regents.