Dear Mr. Gover:
In its public meeting of 17 March conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear an information presentation on the Smithsonian Institution’s site evaluation study for two new museums, the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum. Emphasizing the importance of these new museums in expanding the public understanding of our nation, the Commission provided the following comments on the initial phase of the site selection study.
In their discussion of the site evaluation process, the Commission members recommended that outreach to and consultation with stakeholders should be as wide as possible; in particular, they encouraged engagement with young people across the country, who comprise a large proportion of the visitors to the Smithsonian museums. They also recommended that the evaluation criteria consider the sites’ potential for outdoor public spaces and landscape treatments as important opportunities for the expression of civic narratives—including temporary commemoration and special events—that can enrich the museums’ missions as much as the exhibits within the buildings.
Understanding that there are so few possible locations for new museums directly on the National Mall, the Commission members encouraged developing a strategy for finding other locations that will create appropriately prominent settings for these and future museums; they acknowledged the potential of the highly prominent Banneker Overlook site to extend the cultural precinct of the Mall with a museum corridor along 10th Street, SW. They recognized the high likelihood of using the historic Arts and Industries Building for one of these new museums because of its location, size, and availability; they recommended locating as much of the public program area as possible within the historic building’s footprint. In general, they suggested flexibility in planning, such as accommodating museum support areas remotely, in order to improve the viability of the more constrained sites.
The Commission members also cited the possibilities presented by redeveloping federal sites in the vicinity of the Mall, such as the FBI Building or others, an idea that is supported by long-range planning concepts. They also commented that the sites currently occupied by the Forrestal Building complex would provide excellent opportunities for locating cultural institutions, consistent with the restoration of L’Enfant Plan streets in this area, such as Virginia Avenue. In addition, they advised that the Whitten headquarters building of the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be an exceptional location for a national museum—and a more appropriate use than its current function as a government office building occupying a large site directly on the Mall.
The Commission commends the Smithsonian Institution for its diligence in planning for these new national institutions and looks forward to reviewing the progress of this site evaluation study. Please continue to consult with the staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Under Secretary for Museums and Culture
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012
cc: Luanne Greene, Ayers Saint Gross