The University of Texas at San Antonio will create a new community vision for the Institute of Texan Cultures.
The University of Texas at San Antonio will create a new community vision for the Institute of Texan Cultures. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

After a turbulent 2020 of budget cuts and layoffs at the Institute of Texan Cultures, the University of Texas at San Antonio wants to develop a community vision for the next 50 years of the institute and its museum, the university announced Friday.

Established as the Texas State Exhibits Pavilion for the 1968 World’s Fair, the ITC and its museum showcase the myriad cultures that have shaped Texas through research, archives, and programs. The institute launched the first-of-its-kind research into the history of the region’s Mexican Americans and expanded that research into the many cultures that comprise the state.

The “robust community engagement process,” called ITC Centennial 2068: Community Stakeholder Visioning, will seek recommendations from San Antonians and others who want to see the ITC grow, while gathering information from other successful museums and cultural institutions, according to a UTSA press release.

UTSA Provost and Vice President Kimberly Espy said this opportunity to examine the future of the ITC comes at a natural time with the coronavirus pandemic changing the way people work and live, the revitalization of Hemisfair, and the university’s expansion downtown.

“Now’s a natural time to think about what does the museum of the future look like and how do we make sure that ITC is on that path for the future,” she said.

UTSA plans to announce the members of the centennial steering committee in the coming weeks. It will focus on five areas: the ITC’s overarching mission and scope; UTSA’s engagement, community engagement, and how to sustain support; the museum facility and location; Hemisfair Park and land use; and K-12 education and engagement.

While downtown is part of UTSA’s strategic plan, Espy said, the university wants to hear what the ITC’s stakeholders think is the best location for the institute and how best to engage residents of San Antonio and the rest of the state. The building that houses the museum also poses some challenges because of its age.

Espy said there are plenty of opportunities for UTSA and the committee to leverage the university’s growing downtown footprint. That physical presence could connect various San Antonio communities while serving K-12 students to “create the cultural enthusiasts for the future.”

Additionally, UTSA hopes to hear about how the committee plans to leverage funding sources to ensure the ITC’s next 50 years, Espy said. The institute receives some state funding, but that has not been sufficient to sustain the ITC.

The ITC has been struggling in recent years to support itself, operating at a deficit for several years and relying on reserve funds. The institute’s signature event, the Texas Folklife Festival, also lost money, and the coronavirus pandemic crippled the ITC’s financial outlook further after it was forced to close mid-March.

In July, UTSA slashed the ITC’s expenses by $800,000, roughly half the prior year’s core budget, and laid off 20 employees, including the institute’s executive director and the person in charge of organizing the signature festival.

UTSA plans to expand the institute’s research and storytelling through new programs, more technology, and the exploration of topics that intersect with culture and current events to create that museum of the future, according to the press release.

“We want to make sure we’re also reaching folks who a lot of times engage with material digitally through their phones, through their devices,” Espy said. “We want to make sure we’re providing that access, but that (access) also is a reason then why one wants to come to the actual museum to enjoy and explore and learn more.”

Espy will oversee the community visioning initiative, which will include an outside facilitator to lead discussions and engagement. UTSA will select the facilitator through a request for proposals process.

“The institute and its museum are irreplaceable centers of knowledge and discovery that uniquely share the story of Texas’ cultural history and diversity,” UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said in a statement. “Our goal is to ensure that the ITC continues to thrive, is self-sustaining, and delivers robust programs that capture the interest and imagination of Texans of all ages – now and for the next 50 years.”

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.