A Republican-Drafted Bill Has Axed Funding for the Smithsonian’s Planned Latino Museum in 2024

0
22

The future of the yet-to-be-built National Museum of the American Latino is in jeopardy after the House Appropriations Committee passed a new bill that expressly prohibits the Smithsonian Institution from using federal funding for the coming year to plan or build the new museum.

Drafted by the committee’s Republican majority, the bill was approved in a 33 to 27 vote last week. The news was first reported by the Hill.

Several Democrats have been outspoken in the need for Congress to continue funding the fledgling Latino museum.

“The Latino community is so integral to America’s heritage,” Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl) said. “It baffles me why the majority would block the Smithsonian from highlighting their historic and cultural contributions—especially since Congress  this museum.”

Congress agreed to fund the creation of a new Smithsonian museum dedicated to Latino history—along with the women’s history museum—as part of a bipartisan omnibus spending bill in 2020, and is considering sites on D.C.’s National Mall for both museums.

So, it should have been a big step forward for the Latino museum when the Molina, its first physical space and the Smithsonian’s only dedicated gallery for Latino history and culture, opened in 2022. Instead, it appears to have created new roadblocks.

The 4,500-square-foot gallery’s inaugural exhibition, “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States,” “tells U.S. history from the perspectives of the diverse Latinas and Latinos who lived it and live it today,” according to the Smithsonian. Republicans don’t see it that way.

"¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States" at the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Photo by Astrid Riecken for the <em>Washington Post</em> via Getty Images.

“¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” at the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Photo by Astrid Riecken for the via Getty Images.

The rationale behind the committee’s decision to block funding was made evident during the bill’s markup session. The committee chairwoman Kay Granger said in a statement that it had rejected an amendment that would have “facilitated the Smithsonian’s continued portrayal of American Latinos in a negative light.” Her statement came after Republican Hispanic members expressed concern over exhibits that depict Hispanic Americans “as victims” and “promote socialism,” per representative Mike Simpson, (R-Id), chair of the appropriations subcommittee.

“The museum almost myopically portrays Latinos as an oppressed monolith united largely by their victimhood, neglecting the nuanced and varied experiences, including remarkable successes, of the American Latino,” the bill report stated.

Representative Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fl) has been vocal in his disapproval of the exhibition, taking offense to its “insulting” inclusion of a convicted deserter as the only example of a Hispanic serving in the armed forces. He spoke at length in Spanish in the markup session and accused the Smithsonian of only paying “lip service” to his concerns about its depiction of Hispanics.

“We’ll fix it, but the way to do that is to make sure that the Smithsonian understands that we will not accept this patronizing quasi-racist attitude towards Latinos in the United States of America,” he concluded.

The Republican desire to control the narrative at the Latino museum reflects other overarching trends in the bill, which outlines its “conservative priorities” in a summary. Those include prohibitions against “the use of funds to promote or advance Critical Race Theory,” new rules that “ensure only appropriate flags are flown over agency facilities,” and stopping the implementation of the Biden Administration’s Executive Orders on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

"¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States" at the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.

“¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States” at the Molina Family Latino Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.

The funding cuts to the museum are part of the bill’s broader efforts to slash the budget by 35 percent, with major cuts in the arts and culture.

Notably, the bill would reduce the Smithsonian’s annual budget by $184.79 million, or 16 percent, from 2023 levels to $959.7 million. It’s also $281.3 billion less than President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget request. (It does allow for $16.9 million for the Smithsonian’s other forthcoming branch, the American Women’s History Museum.)

Also hurting is D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, where the budget could be slashed by 15 percent to $178 million, while the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts are both getting 10 percent budget reductions to $186.3 million each. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. is a rare winner among cultural institutions in the current bill, which awards it the full $67 million requested by the president.

“The cuts to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art are so deep that they will be forced to reduce the number of hours or days each week that the museums are open to the public,” Maine’s First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said at the committee markup session, noting the reduction is the equivalent of 200 full-time jobs at the Smithsonian and 180 at the NGA. “Staffing cuts of this magnitude would make it impossible to safely operate the museum and protect the collections and buildings.”

Next, the bill will be put to a vote before the entire House of Representatives, which is also under Republican control. But with a Democrat majority in the Senate, it remains to be seen whether these deep budget cuts will remain intact as the appropriations process continues to inch through Congress.

The Smithsonian declined to comment on the Appropriation Committee’s proposed budget.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here