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Indian Museum Compromise Leaves Smithsonian Unhappy

April 13, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The New York City-based Museum of the American Indian, which has long been searching for a more spacious home, would move and stay in the same place under a compromise plan revealed Tuesday.

But as soon as the plan was announced, objections were raised by the Smithsonian Institution, which has a stake in the negotiations.

Under the proposal, the bulk of the museum collection would move into the Custom House in lower Manhattan, while its current upper Manhattan site remains open and Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, pursues a plan for a National Museum of the American Indian in Washington. The national museum would be part of the Smithsonian Institution and have borrowing privileges from the New York Indian museum.

″Instead of one museum, we get three,″ Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, D-N.Y., said in announcing the plan. He was flanked by Inouye, who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, and Reps. Charles Rangel and Ted Weiss, both New York Democrats.

However, Smithsonian Secretary Robert McC. Adams later issued a statement calling the Smithsonian’s association with the plan ″unwise and unworkable.″

In a letter to Inouye released late Tuesday, Adams detailed his objections, which include building a new museum to house borrowed objects; placing undue financial burdens for the facility on the Smithsonian; and not giving the Smithsonian sufficient authority over the new museum.

The Museum of the American Indian long has been starved for space, visitors and funding. The 15,000-square-foot building in a decaying neighborhood is too small to display more than about 1 percent of its million-artifact collection at a time, so most of the objects have languished in a Bronx warehouse.

The compromise was aimed at resolving a longstanding dispute over where to house the collection amassed by George Gustav Heye and established by his will. The trust stipulates that the collection remain in New York state, spurring New York officials to rebuff an offer in 1986 by Texas tycoon H. Ross Perot to move the museum to Dallas.

Adams suggested that the Smithsonian ″stand aside at this time so that the possibility of making the New York Custom House available to the Heye Foundation can be pursued.″

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