Press Release

December 8, 2020

American Latino Museum From Concept to the National Mall: A Conversation with Danny Vargas



Future of Cultural Centers: Danny Vargas, Museum of the American Latino – 12.08.2020 from Center for Architecture on Vimeo.


A few days after our conversation with Danny Vargas, the United States Senate passed the bill legislating the formal establishment of the National Museum of the American Latino, now only a presidential signature away from being law. The National Museum of the American Latino will join The Smithsonian’s 19 museums, galleries, and gardens on the National Mall. This comes 13 years after Vargas joined the commission that would propose the project to Congress and 26 years after the Museum’s first conception. It began with a 1994 report, commissioned by the Smithsonian itself, that found the Smithsonian’s hiring practices and engagement with Latino art and art history as willfully neglectful. One of the recommendations that emerged from the report was the formation of a new institution, dedicated to telling those stories and weaving them into the broader fabric of American historical consciousness.

To Vargas, this project is by-and-for the Latino community but is also part of a much more expansive vision of American identity. He challenges the notion that a Latino museum is somehow a niche project, as Representative Jim Moran (D – Virginia) has propounded. Vargas responds that “people that might go to the African-American Museum are not just African-Americans, they are people of all backgrounds who want to be able to go to a museum where you can see an aspect of a story through a lens of the community that has a particular experience, but they also will go to the American History Museum, they will also go to the Museum and Natural History, they also go to the Air and Space Museum, so there’s cross-pollination that takes place.”


photo courtesy of Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino


When asked about how the National Museum of the American Latino will work against the mounting tendency in the museum world of rigid top-down structures for programming, Vargas emphasizes the personal commitment shared by the Museum’s board and the necessity of figuring out how to maintain a “bi-directional” stream of information and collaboration between the National Museum of the American Latino with other more regionally-focused institutions and collections. Such a vision, Vargas tells us “require[s] an engaged board of trustees, a staff that has its ear to the ground” along with “horizontal and vertical integration in a way that’s going to remain vibrant in the future.” In a post-covid world, this of course includes a robust digital presence as well.

As far as location, there are now four potential sites for the Museum to occupy. Two of these are greenfield sites and the other two are existing buildings. Ultimately, Vargas tells us, the decision will rely in part on the Museum’s fundraising efforts. The vision extends beyond the display of objects, too . Among the other types of programming he envisions making up the Museum experience are oral history, theater and performing arts and very importantly, food: “I often kid that… we’d have the best food court in the history of mankind… Imagine being able to go and get an Argentinean churrasco with chimichurri sauce, and mofongo, and pupusa, and maybe churros for dessert and Cuban coffee.”


photo courtesy of Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino


Danny Vargas, Board Chair, Friends of the Museum of the American Latino
David van der Leer,
  Principal, DVDL

The world is rapidly changing around us, and it is questionable if the old frameworks for the development of programs and space programs for museums will still be relevant tomorrow. What would museums for the 21st century become if we were to take this unprecedented time to explore new missions, visions, and (space) programs for existing and new institutions?

For the fifth and final conversation in the fall season of  The Future of Cultural Centers   dialogue series, we spoke with  Danny Vargas, Board Chair of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, an upcoming museum in Washington, D.C. Among other things, Danny is a corporate executive, media commentator, and community leader whose commitment to outreach for the Hispanic community has forged meaningful connections at the intersection of media, business, and politics. 


Find Danny Vargas on social media:
Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino:
Twitter | Instagram | Website




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