Monday, December 10, 2012

National Women's History Museum Taking Steps Toward Mall Site

Washington DC commercial real estate development journal
If another year is approaching, it must be time for considering another museum on the Mall.  Considering that a museum dedicated to African Americans is currently rising on the Mall's front yard, Martin Luther King got one, Eisenhower's is on the way, and Latinos are vying for one as well, why not a women’s history museum?  There is a coalition of folks who’ve been agitating for just that since 1996.  Having built a comprehensive website and an administrative office in Alexandria, little by little, they’re making some headway in moving to DC’s federal heart.

National Women's History Museum, Washington DC
In mid-September, legislation to establish a commission that would identify a site for a National Women's History Museum was introduced in Congress, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). It’s a relatively small step, but a crucial one if the museum is to be directly on the Mall, the organization’s goal.

“We previously had legislation that did identify a site, but it then came on our radar that there’s another site on the National Mall,” explained Joan Wages, the museum’s president and CEO. “To consider that site, we need Congress to form a commission to study this.” Of course, she admits, “getting something through Congress is a major hurdle. But we’re working with Maloney and Collins’ staff now to see if there’s any way we could get something through the lame duck session or during the first part of next year.”

Wages declined to describe the plot she and the museum’s board have identified, though she did say it’s located on the south side of the Mall. According to Carol Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Parks Service, the Mall is currently considered "a finished work of art"--publicity about the African American museum touts it as getting the last available spot on the Mall--but that can be overriden by Congress.

The originally-proposed site was at 12th and Independence Avenue, across from the Freer Gallery, but was less than ideal: the spot has a road running directly through it, requiring a building to arch over the roadway and mandating a number of tricky permits.

Eventual plans are fairly ambitious. The concept, said Wages, would be “a world class museum—I think we’d be looking at 200,000 square feet and up.” As for content, she laughed. “There’s hundreds of years of women’s history. I think there’ll be plenty to put in there.” 

New museum proposed for the National Mall, Washington DC
But a permanent structure is clearly quite a ways off. For now, the group is gathering support; the organization already has over 50,000 charter members, according to Wages, and almost 50 national organizations representing more than 8 million people have signed on.

Supporters are also closely watching other museums’ strategies; after all, the African American museum also started out as a grassroots movement that took decades to reach fruition.

In the meantime, museum staff are building out the website, which is currently running 22 virtual exhibits about women’s history, such as “First but not the Last: Women who Ran for President.” There’s no shortage of topics, said Wages, adding, “Women’s history is virtually left out of history textbooks today.”

Washington, D.C., real estate development news


mike said...

The FBI is moving from Penn Ave soon, that would be a perfect spot for this museum! (Would require a whole new building of course.)

Anonymous said...

Why not a white guy museum?

Anonymous said...

The Balkanization of America continues.

But hey, at least they'll be some construction jobs, right?

Eric said...

Museum for the transgendered, anyone? My guess is Congress won't have the guts to say no, if you propose it, so you might as well try.

Anonymous said...

The hideous golden palace casino they're putting in the Mall (aka the African American History Museum) needs to be stopped. How horrible that they're taking away the open view of the Washington Monument on the corner of 14th and Constitution.

Anonymous said...

Women are 50% of the population at least. Why on Earth do we need a museum if they are all of us? All museums are about women or they should be. Fix the museums don’t contrive some boutique little museum for women. How belittling! What a complete affront. This is just more binder talk.

7r3y3r said...

Where does it stop? It'd be nice if we just used the general topical museums (i.e., American History, Air and Space) to highlight achievements by specific gender/ethnic/racial groups within that topic instead of having each group create their own museum.

Also, do MLK and Eisenhower really have a museum portion attached to their memorial or is it just a memorial/statute?

Anonymous said...

The spam on here is out of control.

Skidrowe said...

DCMud: Delete the Spam! Your credibility drops every minute the obvious spam messages remain on the post.

As for a women's museum, I get the rationale, but I'm having trouble warming to the reality. It occurs to me to wonder if this planned museum couldn't merge with, or be an outgrowth of, the existing National Museum of Women in the Arts. Seems like there's potential for both to be strengthened. From NMWA's perspective, they would get a much-needed broadening of purpose and donor base. From the Women's Museum's perspective, they would get a solid foundation to build upon incrementally and a landmark building in a great location. And from the perspective of the doubters (such as many of the anonymouses above), it would not mean another splinter-group museum crowding downtown DC, but in fact the opposite, the redution of specialization of an existing museum.

Almost all of the NMWA's exhibitions have the same basic theme: how the work of the artist relates to the state of womandom at the time and place where she worked. This theme gives depth, interest, and significance to art that, too often, isn't especially strong on its own merits. I say this as one who appreciates the NMWA's many good exhibitions, but sometimes it would be better for the history to be the star of the exhibition, with the artwork in a supporting role. That's what a NMWA/Women's Museum merger could provide.

Ken on Dec 11, 2012, 3:06:00 PM said...

Yes, we do delete the spam, but sometimes it comes faster than we can catch it.

Payton on Dec 11, 2012, 8:42:00 PM said...

What possible sites are left that are actually *on* the Mall? The parcel across the Mall from the African American museum (i.e., 1400 block of Independence SW) is technically available, but due to the Mall's southward skew it's really small. Otherwise, the USDA front offices and the Capitol occupy the only non-SI/NGA frontages along the Mall itself.

It really is time to open up new sites with appropriately ceremonial public spaces:
- along a grander L'Enfant Promenade
- deck over the Kennedy Center interchanges
- move offices off Constitution & Independence (or at least the ground floors thereof)
- fill in the Senate parking lots fronting Union Station
- replace RFK, or the East Potomac Golf Course, with a museum campus

John on Dec 13, 2012, 8:46:00 AM said...

It's the National Park Service (not Parks Service)

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