November 14, 2019

Udall Champions Latino Museum, Women’s History, and Tribal Engagement at Oversight Hearing on the Smithsonian Institution

Udall calls on Congress to support sufficient Smithsonian budgets to fund existing infrastructure and new facilities

WASHINGTON – Today, in a hearing of the Senate Rules Committee, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), spoke in favor of adequate budgets for a strong Smithsonian Institution and expressed support for establishing Smithsonian Latino and Women’s History Museums. Udall also questioned Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie G. Bunch III about the Smithsonian’s work and engagement with Native American Tribes.

“We all know that the Smithsonian requires real investments to keep its existing museums operating, to expand its collections to tell the story of all Americans, and to support the reach of its research and educational programs across the country,” Udall said in his opening statement.  “In my view, Congress should be able to do both things—support existing infrastructure and provide an exciting opportunity for the Smithsonian to expand its footprint to include these new museums. 

Udall focused on the Smithsonian’s dialogue with proponents of the new museums and the communities they would represent. Referring to his meeting with Bunch in July, Udall first focused on efforts to implement the Latino museum. 

“When you and I last met, we talked about the importance of you meeting with the museum’s advocates,” Udall said. “Groups like the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, National Council of La Raza, the ‘friends’ group working in support of the museum creation, and many others. Have you had the opportunity to meet with these groups, and what are you hearing from them?” 

“I’ve had opportunities to talk to individuals, not collective groups,” Bunch responded. “I’m meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus very soon. What I’m hearing is one, a commitment for people to realize and recognize that the Smithsonian cares about this subject and wants to do even more. And there’s a great deal of interest in…how did we build the African-American Museum, what are the steps and what are the challenges. So what I’m hearing is great excitement, and I think that what I want to make sure is, while we share that excitement, we want to also make sure that we’re doing very concrete things that people can see  today that lay a foundation for the future. 

Udall, a senior member of the Rules Committee and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, fought to include an additional $1.7 million in the coming year for the Smithsonian’s Latino Center, a provision to expand programs in existing museums. The funding cleared the Senate last month in a vote approving the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior Appropriations bill. Udall is a cosponsor of legislation to establish the National Museum of the American Latino.

Udall also asked Bunch about the Smithsonian Women’s History Initiative. “The Interior Subcommittee bill funds the Women’s History Initiative at $3.7 million,” Udall said. “What is the Smithsonian doing with its current resources to celebrate and deepen the public’s understanding of the contributions of American women? How would the additional funds provided in the bill be used to expand that and prepare for a permanent museum?”

“Again, much like the Latino Center, being able to explore this history of American women really allows us to build collections which are key to building a new museum,” Bunch said. “ It also allows us to do exhibitions that cross boundaries….I want to be sure that curators across the Smithsonian have the guidance and the resources to make sure that issues of gender are explored in every of our museums.”

A group of women in the Senate introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a Smithsonian Women’s History Museum in March.

Udall concluded with a question to Bunch on issues related to Tribal sovereignty and cultural patrimony.

“Secretary Bunch, as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I strongly support Tribes’ inherent right to exercise self-government, which includes their ability to protect and maintain Tribal cultural patrimony such as ceremonial and religious event recordings,”Udall said. “Many museums and universities, including the Smithsonian, currently hold these recordings in their collections. Under current law, it’s possible those culturally sensitive recordings could be released to the public domain, which is a major concern for Tribes.  Last week, I brought this issue up with the Librarian of Congress in a hearing before this Committee, and was told that the Library is working with the Smithsonian on Tribal engagement. Can I get your commitment to working with the Library of Congress, and to engaging with Tribes, on this important issue?”

“Not only are we working with the Library of Congress, but we’ve already done a lot of work in this particular area,” Bunch responded.“We’ve created what we call a ‘Shared Stewardship Collections Policy. This allows us to look at the Native holdings that we have, to make sure that Native communities shape our collections policies, shape our access. We actually communicate and consult with those communities to make sure that we’re not letting sacred music, or issues that should not be in the broad public [into our collections]. 

“We are doing everything that we can to ensure that we are honoring the intangible heritage of these Native communities,” Bunch continued. “And I think that this is one of the most important things we’re doing, because we will now take that Shared Stewardship notion, and I’m going to ask the rest of the Smithsonian to look at it so that we have a policy that shapes the entire Smithsonian.”     

The text of Udall’s opening statement as delivered is below.

“Thank you very much, Chairman Blunt, and thank you for those nice words in introduction there. Great to be with you here. You’re a good friend. And we really enjoyed looking at the display there I think [referring to Prince’s guitar and another guitar from Missouri].

“I’m very pleased to be here this morning to discuss the Smithsonian Institution and its programs, and to welcome its new Secretary, Lonnie Bunch, before the Committee for the first time since his appointment. I am also proud to have the chance to oversee the Institution as both a member of the Rules Committee here, and as Ranking Member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.  

“In both roles, I have worked to make sure Congress is an active partner with the Smithsonian Institution and provides the resources that it needs to meet its obligations to advance the civic, educational, scientific, and artistic life of this nation.  

“And I can just say I’m here sometimes on weekends, and my wife and I go to many of your museums and it’s a marvelous display for Americans about so many important issues in American life and issues around the world. 

“I’m proud that the Senate Interior Subcommittee has worked to advance an appropriations bill that provides more than $1.0 billion dollars. This also includes new funding increases for security, facilities maintenance, and $1.7 million in new funding for the Latino Center. I look forward to producing a final bill that will give the Institution a strong budget for fiscal year 2020. 

“I welcome the chance to talk about the opportunities—and the challenges—and supporting the great work that the Smithsonian is doing here this morning. 

“We all know that the Smithsonian requires real investments to keep its existing museums operating, to expand its collections to tell the story of all Americans, and to support the reach of its research and educational programs across the country.   

“In particular, I expect we’ll hear this morning about the importance of Congress committing the resources needed to meet the Institution’s maintenance and capital needs. The capital requirements clearly need to be priority.   

“But we will have the opportunity to talk about the importance of Congress authorizing new museums that celebrate the history and Latino community—museums that would recognize and celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage and whose authorization legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support.

“In my view, Congress should be able to do both things—support existing infrastructure and provide an exciting opportunity for the Smithsonian to expand its footprint to include these new museums. And I look forward to hearing from the Secretary this morning as we talk about each of these priorities.”