Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Woe is the "City Museum" and the lack of a comprehensive DC cultural plan

Carnegie Library, DC, postcard, 1918, front
The debacle of the DC "City Museum" continues forward.  Before the Convention Center opened, the Historical Society of Washington was induced to move from the Heurich Mansion to the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square.  The "powers-that-be" wanted this because they thought that the museum would be a draw to attendees of conventions at the Convention Center, but it turned out there wasn't that kind of synergy.

The building was expensive to renovate and operate, and doesn't work very well as a museum anyway--it's small and the dimensions of the building don't lend itself to exhibiting "big stuff."

And the museum as a building and the Historical Society as an organization crashed and burned.

I first wrote about it on the H-DC list in 2004 (and this and this too) but then compiled those writings into the blog when I started writing in earnest back in 2005.   From the last cited email:

the city needs a more comprehensive cultural heritage and tourism strategy... Historic preservation, cultural tourism, museums, the Washingtoniana collection, the DC Archives, and other resources need to be considered, promoted, protected, and developed in concert. That includes the provision of municipal resources and the consideration of new government initiatives that could complement this thrust.

In 2011, the city through the Convention Center (Events DC) took over the building on a master lease, with some space on the second floor devoted to the Historical Society functions.  See "Events D.C. finalizes lease agreement in Mt. Vernon Square" from the Washington Business Journal.

Yesterday it was announced that the International Spy Museum--which is a for profit business--will be moving into the space.  See "Events D.C. to move International Spy Museum into Carnegie Library" from the Washington Business Journal.  Although in order to make the space work better, they will do an underground addition.

According to a communication from the Historical Society:

The Historical Society has been in confidential discussions with Events D.C., the city's convention and sports authority, for the relocation of the International Spy Museum to the Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square, our home for the last ten years. The Society intends to maintain its headquarters at the Carnegie in a cooperative arrangement.

The current proposal envisions a 40,000-square-foot underground addition for use by the Spy Museum. In addition, a new glass structure on the north side of the building will house a visitor's center and other dining and entertainment uses.

Our Kiplinger Research Library, exhibition galleries, collections storage areas, and offices would be consolidated in a renovated space within the Carnegie. For those who would like more information, we have compiled a complete FAQ on our website.

Which makes another 2005 entry, which proposed building a new central library, and combining into it visitor center, archives, and museum functions, all the more relevant.  See "Central Library Planning efforts and the City Museum, how about some learning from Augusta, Maine ... and Baltimore?"

It probably just makes more sense to move the Historical Society out of the building altogether, which would make them a perfect co-located organization for DC's Central Library. (More on this in the next blog entry.)

But these kinds of cultural planning initiatives should be considered comprehensively, not in a piecemeal fashion.  See "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king" (from 2007).

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At 7:00 AM, Blogger IMGoph said...

News stories say the spy museum is becoming a non-profit organization with this move. There's a LOT of shuffling going on to make this happen.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I'm not even necessarily against this. It's just that it's another example of unconsidered, one-off planning, it's more about the Spy Museum--it wouldn't move, no matter what the reports say, because museums in the suburbs don't draw much in the way of attendance, with the exception of Mount Vernon historic site and Arlington Cemetery--and not about cultural planning.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ran into this problem while working on the call box art program. The kids who ran the program cycled in and out of it on a 3 month basis and totally destroyed it because there was zero chance to develop any kind of understanding with the artists or neighborhoods involved. Finally they just gave it up.Heritage and Tourism is a bureaucracy and one that is particularly prone to transient behavior- the absolute worst of it shows with the way they conduct their business.


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