New museum approved

While Congress authorized the construction of a National Museum of African American History and Culture Nov. 20, the question of where to put the new museum remains.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said the museum is in the beginning stages, and what the museum will contain is unknown.

"Almost everything we know is in the legislation," St. Thomas said.

According to the bill, the museum will provide for "the collection, study, and establishment of programs relating to African American life, art, history and culture that encompasses the period of slavery, the era of Reconstruction, the Harlem renaissance, the civil rights movement, and other periods of the African American Diaspora."

The approved legislation includes four possible sites for the museum, which will be part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian Board of Regents will approve one of these sites, and the bill states the site must be chosen within a year.

The Board of Regents will also be responsible for planning, designing and constructing a building for the museum.

These sites are: The current Arts and Industries Museum building on the National Mall, the foot of the 14th Street Bridge in Southwest D.C., the foot of the L'Enfant Plaza Promenade in Southwest D.C. and the area between Constitution Avenue, Madison Drive and 14th and 15th streets NW, next to the National Museum of American History.

The Smithsonian cannot build a new building on the National Mall because of recently passed legislation putting a ban on new structures on the Mall.

"Everyone thinks their things have to be on the Mall, but there are other prominent sites," said Judy Scott Feldman, the former AU professor who is president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. Feldman said an alternative site would also allow for more freedom in building design and architecture.

AU government professor Steven Taylor suggested the Shaw district near Howard University as a site for the museum, calling the area "a mecca of black intellectual thought in this country."

The plans for the museum depend on an appropriation from Congress that the Smithsonian is unsure when they will receive, St. Thomas said.

"They may give money in 2005 and they may not," she said.

Congress is authorized to give the Smithsonian $17 million for fiscal year 2004 to carry out this act, and "such sums as are necessary for each fiscal year thereafter," according to the bill.

The government is providing half of the $300 million estimated as the cost of the project. The Smithsonian must raise the rest through private contributions and fundraising.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) sponsored the bill, along with D.C.'s non-voting delegate in Congress, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Doxie McCoy, Norton's press secretary, said the Smithsonian will plan the museum along with National Capital Planning Commission, which is the planning agency for federal property in the District.

"Residents of the District of Columbia have long awaited a museum that documents and celebrates black contributions to our country," Norton said in a press release.

Lewis is quoted on his Web site as saying, "African American history is an integral part of our country, yet the vital contributions of African Americans go virtually unrecognized."

This museum will come in addition to the Anacostia Museum for African American History and Culture, also part of the Smithsonian Institution.

The plans for this new museum come as the Smithsonian is completing construction of the National Museum of the American Indian, which will open next fall.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) introduced legislation for a National Museum of the American Latino in mid-October in anticipation of the African American Museum bill's passage.

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