The Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History will be the leading interpretive gallery devoted to explore the richness and diversity of Latino history, culture, and identity in the United States. Expected to open in May 2022 and over the course of 10 years, the Latino Gallery will be an integral part of the National Museum of American History’s program. It will offer exciting temporary exhibitions, engaging educational and cultural programs as well as public events such as readings, podcasts, book launches, among others. The space has been designed to offer flexibility to accommodate the needs of this rich program over time, and also to upgrade the gallery’s lighting, acoustic, and media systems.
The overall exhibition design approach for the gallery has been conceived according to the principles of Universal Design and following the Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Design. In addition, the gallery provides a rich array of experiences that attempt to address the key dimensions of experience detailed in the IPOP model (Ideas, People, Objects, and Physical). The gallery’s layout and circulation as well as the design of exhibit components, content hierarchy, and visual identity have been carefully crafted to create a rich and diverse visitor experience.
All content in the gallery will be bilingual, in English and Spanish. It will also be accessible to all public, taking into special consideration all possible requirements needed to offer a rich and inclusive experience for people with different types of physical and learning disabilities.
Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution
Client: Smithsonian Latino Center
Black Box Architect Partner: Quinn Evans
Black Box Architects: Abby Tourtellotte, Carolina Uechi, Alyson Steele (Partner)
Project Director: Eduardo Diaz
Curator: Ranald Woodaman
Assistant Curator: Lola Ramirez
Museum Environments team
Lead Designer: Mariano Desmarás
Designer and Project Manager: Andrés Clerici
Architect: Melinda Zoephel
Bilingual Graphic Design Production: Alejandro Kiesel
The Latino Gallery’s name marks the entrance across the threshold, and Meet Us, a multimedia faceted wall, provides a dynamic experience to entice and welcome visitors to the gallery. Once inside, visitors find three distinct experiential spaces: 1) the historical exhibition areas, 2) the contemporary Foro, or forum, and 3) the Learning Lounge.
Along the gallery’s perimeter, twelve-foot-high vitrines showcase thematic arrangements of graphics, historical artifacts and contemporary images from the Smithsonian, other museums, and private lenders. Each exhibition section is introduced by a free-standing object displayed in a nook that creates accessible, multi-sensory experiences. Visitors seeking a deeper dive into the ideas and stories displayed in the vitrines can interact with nearby digital tables that feature animated maps, timelines, biographies, and sensorial interactives.
The space at the center of the gallery has been dubbed the Foro (Forum) for its plaza-like design, which lends itself to communal interactions between individuals and small groups. Eight interactive digital storytellers are situated throughout the Foro to recount diverse Latino stories that dialogue with historical content in the cases and demographic information. The Foro is bookended on one side by a large-scale digital map, Mapping the U.S. Latino Experience, and a small theater on the opposite side where different audiovisual programs, such as Somos, will be screened. Mapping the U.S. Latino Experience encourages visitors to explore different aspects of Latino demographics and data, while Somos profiles the diversity of the Latino community.
Past the theater is the Learning Lounge, an informal multipurpose space that can host an array of hands-on educational activities and events related to the gallery’s content for groups of all ages. This unique space can also be used for live streamed educational and public programs that extend the reach of the gallery.
Visitors enter the gallery through an entryway between the exhibition title wall and Meet Us. Instead of a single, continuous exhibition path, the flow inside the gallery will be open and unrestricted to encourage visitors to navigate the space freely. This fluid and non-linear circulation will allow visitors to contrast what they see in the cases and the media experiences at the center of the space, between history and contemporary Latino stories. As established in the Smithsonian Guidelines for Accessible Design, circulation will be fully accessible with the required clearance for wheelchair users and will be easy to follow and well lighted.