The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Smithsonian gets $25 million grant for program on race

Lonnie G. Bunch III, the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian, at the Natural History Museum. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The Smithsonian Institution will explore how Americans understand, experience and confront race and racism in a new program to be funded with a $25 million grant from Bank of America.

As protests continue across the country over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the new program, “Race, Community and Our Shared Future,” seeks to help Americans explore their history and build a more inclusive future, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III said in an interview Monday afternoon.

“This is an opportunity for the Smithsonian to say we want to be of value when the country is in crisis,” Bunch said. “Other than universities, the Smithsonian is one of the few places that can bring expertise in so many areas.”

Drawing on experts from the Smithsonian’s African American and American Indian museums and Latino and Asian Pacific American centers, the institution will create a single resource dedicated to the national issue, Bunch said.

African American Museum offers new forum for talking about race

It will feature panel discussions, both in-person and virtual, collection efforts and oral history archives. No specific programs or dates have been decided.

Bunch brought the idea to Bank of America, a founding member of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the museum that Bunch led before leaving last year to become head of the entire Smithsonian. The company’s response will serve as a model for partnerships with other entities, he said.

“Brian Moynihan has been with me now for 15 years. Talk about a good corporate citizen,” Bunch said of the bank’s chief executive, who is member of the NMAAHC’s museum council. Bank of America has pledged $1 million to the Molina Family Latino Gallery, which is set to open in 2022 in the National Museum of American History.

“A true sense of urgency has arisen in our communities and we must not let it quiet down,” Moynihan said in a statement. “Our commitment to the Smithsonian will support conversations that can advance economic and social progress. Now is the time. We all must do more.”

Smithsonian cuts top executives’ pay in an effort to avoid furloughs

The Smithsonian has responsibility to the American public to address these issues, said Eduardo Díaz, the director of the Smithsonian Latino Center.

“We’re the national museum. We need to be responsive not only to the history of race and racism, but we have to deal with it in an authentic, forceful, intelligent way,” he said.

Díaz said topics to tackle could range from police brutality and immigration to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the Latino community and anti-blackness among many Latinos.

“Museums, to the extent that we are about arts and culture and history, we have a unique position to interpret these conflicts,” he said. “And we have a responsibility to assist in finding resolutions. We have to be active in solving the problems.”