Microsoft to Help Design “Virtual Museum” to Showcase Culture and History of the American Hemisphere

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 26, 1998 — Walk the Capitol Mall, the famed museum corridor in Washington, D.C., and you’ll see some of the Smithsonian Institution’s most fabled halls of history. Now, with help from Microsoft, the Mall will be home to the Museum of the Americas, which will celebrate the rich cultural and historic contributions of nations in the American Hemisphere.

Microsoft recently announced its decision to partner with the Museum of the Americas Foundation, along with the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Smithsonian Institution.

“Basically our role is as a technology advisor to help initially design the virtual museum,” said Ana Maria Robbin, Microsoft’s Florida-based regional development manager. “The concept of the virtual museum will allow curators from the Americas to create an environment where distance learning and various educational projects can be centered.”

The OAS will donate the land; the museum will begin construction on the Mall sometime after the year 2000. The larger museums in each country represented will contribute art and artifacts, including some 500,000 pieces from the Smithsonian’s collection.

Mauricio Santillan, Microsoft’s regional vice president for Latin America, called the Museum of the Americas “one of the most visionary projects that has been made to promote the cultural heritage of the hemisphere.”

Organizers are now trying to raise $2 million for preliminary engineering and architectural studies. The museum, which may be built underground behind OAS headquarters and could be as large as 100,000 square feet, will also contain a strong virtual component to showcase art and culture throughout the Americas.

With the click of a mouse, more than 600 million people from as far north as Canada to as far south as Chile and Argentina will be able to discover, learn about, and experience the cultural and artistic heritage of their own and neighboring countries.

Robbin said in addition to the goodwill Microsoft’s participation will engender, the project promotes two key corporate concepts: the advancement of online learning and the promotion of cultural diversity. “First- or second-generation kids who have grown up in the U.S. or Canada, for example, may not be able to visit the great museums located where their families originated. The museum will provide a great way to connect these children with their roots.”

Microsoft became involved in the project after Santillan and other corporate representatives began discussing with former U.S. IDB Director Ron Scheman how the company could contribute.

Scheman, who is now chairman of the Museum of the Americas, said Microsoft will play a key role in the development of the museum’s virtual component. “Basically what we have to do is define the technological requirements to make this happen. And Microsoft in my experience is the best company around to be partnering with on a project of this scale. Your people are the most energetic, and you’ve got the best spirit and motivation.”

Microsoft, along with Citicorp/Citibank, the Coca-Cola Company, VISA International, Bacardi- Martini U.S.A., and the Philip Morris Companies, is a charter member of the Museum of the Americas.

Members of the Inter-American Advisory Board, who are from Latin American and Caribbean countries, will work to ensure that the museum reflects the best cultural, historic, and anthropological elements of the hemisphere and will advise on the national and local museums that will participate in the virtual exhibits. The board will also provide guidance regarding all electronic, physical, and scholarly exchanges, which will be an integral part of project’s online component.

In addition to fund-raising and budgeting issues, the current planning phase involves engineering studies of the OAS site, an analysis of the content and design of the collection, and an initial search to hire a museum director and curator.

The Foundation’s goal is to break ground during the millennium celebrations in the year 2000.

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