While the Alamo is top of mind for many Texans, the University of Texas at San Antonio wants everyone to say, “Remember the ITC!”
Texas state Sen. José Menéndez (D-26) said as much Thursday to a group of community stakeholders gathered for the kickoff of a UTSA initiative to envision the future of its flagship museum, the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC).
“We have to find a way — just like the River Walk is one of the most visited places and it’s synonymous with San Antonio, and the Alamo is synonymous with San Antonio — that we make this place synonymous with San Antonio,” Menéndez said of the ITC.
The group of stakeholders includes local luminaries such as catering guru Rosemary Kowalski of the RK Group, Pete Cortez of La Familia Cortez, David Robinson Jr. of Weston Urban, research scientist and entrepreneur GP Singh, and Bexar County Heritage and Parks Director Betty Bueché.
All are members of various task forces that will convene to reimagine the role and presence of the ITC as a prominent Texas museum, said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy in his introduction to the kickoff event, held in the auditorium of Hemisfair neighbor Mexican Cultural Institute.
“We will all look back at this day and this process and say this was something that was deeply transformational,” Eighmy announced as he stood before a projected slide that read “ITC Centennial 2068.”
While UTSA as a whole is on a strong trajectory, Eighmy said, “We want our museum to be great as well.” He quoted civic leader Aaronetta Pierce as saying that over the long term, the ITC needs to become a “gem” for the community and the state.
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“This idea that the ITC can become this gem, that in 2068 community will look back and say, ‘Look at what this became’ — that’s what we want. We want the ownership of the community about the ITC. We want the pride of it. We want it to be so exemplary for our community.”
Recognizing the scope of the challenge, he said, “We just have to figure out what that looks like and how we’re going to get there.”
The ITC has faced adversity in recent years, with dwindling attendance and budgets, a suggested name change, and before Eighmy’s arrival in 2017, discussions of a relocation off the Hemisfair grounds.
With Menéndez and other legislators having recently secured $2 million in funding for the ITC’s next two years despite staff cuts and an overall 5% reduction in UTSA’s budget — due primarily to pandemic belt-tightening — Eighmy affirmed a commitment to bring the museum back to relevance. The university has pledged $250,000 to its ITC visioning initiative.
Members of the three task forces — named Museum of the Future, Community Engagement and Sustaining Support, and Facility and Land Stewardship — are charged with gathering input from the wider community and then making recommendations on how the institution should shape its future.
The task forces will begin work in August, with public engagement sessions throughout the fall. They will report results in December to a steering committee, which will make recommendations to UTSA leadership in the spring of 2022.
Cortez, a member of the the steering committee, said that as a UTSA student in the 1980s, the ITC was an important educational resource. Cortez said his family’s mission statement includes supporting San Antonio’s cultural institutions.
“Anything we can do to continue to preserve and promote culture is very important to our community,” he said. “It’s part of our humanity.”
Fellow steering committee member Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar, said of his Hemisfair neighbors, “[The ITC] is a critically important component of the entire district. … All these cultural institutions are part of San Antonio’s DNA. … Having clarity for how to evolve the ITC for the next generations is critically important not only to that institution, but to our success.”