“My role here, since my background is not in museums, is to integrate the museum and the cultural activities of the OAS into the agenda of the OAS and vice versa, connecting more the museum to development issues and social and political issues that are at the core of the agenda of the institution,” Navia said.
Although the onus of additional funding falls on the museum, an air of concern tends to surround the annual fundraiser, Art After Dark, which transforms the museum into a party space with drinks, art installations and live music.
“The [OAS’s] requirement of keeping an image of being very sober and low-profile and diplomacy-oriented makes it difficult to have fun activities oriented toward the young professional crowd, as other museums can,” Navia explained.
Navia is doing what he can with the limited resources, including planning exhibitions farther in advance; partnering with other organizations, such as Washington Project for the Arts and the Hirshhorn Museum; and seeking out private funds to build a simple addition that could provide state-of-the-art storage as well as exhibition space for the permanent collection. Greet, meanwhile, has been working on an archives documentation process, in association with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, to scan key documents for researchers. That could help raise the profile of the once-renowned collection.
Of even greater urgency is finding a way for the museum, including staff salaries, to become self-sustaining. Although there have been no explicit threats of closure, there has been pressure to find outside money to fund operations. That could mean teaming up with another organization, university or museum.
“We need a partner to survive,” Navia said, adding that the museum undoubtedly has something of value to exchange. “We have a wonderful permanent collection, we have a wonderful location two blocks away from the White House, and the Latin American and Latino communities are growing like crazy.”
Whether Navia can find that partner is a question that bears not only on the museum’s status as a hidden gem or well-known destination, but also perhaps on its existence.
Through Sept. 23. Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St. NW. 202-458-6016. www.museum.oas.org. Free.