The Institute of Texan Cultures has been caught up in the budgetary cuts that the University of Texas at San Antonio has undergone.
The ITC was originally built as the Texas Pavilion for the 1968 World's Fair — Hemisfair — whose declared theme was A Confluence of Civilizations. Dean Hendrix is the head of UTSA's library system, under whose budget the ITC now operates.
"It really fits that the Institute of Cultures is in San Antonio, which is a crossroads and always has been a crossroads," he said.
COVID-19 has closed the ITC with no new income for months, and next year's $1 million ITC budget has been cut by 10%. These factors and others resulted in layoffs for 22 of the 28 ITC staff members last week. But Hendrix said the reduced revenue wasn't at the heart of the drastic staff changes.
"The ITC has been known as a museum you go to. But the problem with that is only people that go into the building in that corner of Hemisfair, they're the only ones that get to enjoy it," he said.
He thinks the ITC has to re-think its calling as an old-school, brick-and-mortar museum.
"And that includes building a new digital infrastructure for the ITC," he said.
So, when new exhibitions are created there, they will be created as digital content, too — content that can be accessed anywhere. Further, Hendrix plans for the ITC to play a specific role with the university that it's not playing now.
"We want to be more of a piece of UTSA, not an outpost,” Hendrix said. “And so UTSA students, they might be employed in areas like multimedia design, web design and marketing. It could be virtual exhibit development, educational outreach and even management."
And he sees much of those activities as taking place at the ITC as an actual university setting. Hendrix predicts the eventual creation of what amounts to a TV station, a radio station and other avenues for creating digital content.
"Well, now all those technologies have gotten incredibly cheap. And so I want to leverage that kind of democratization of technology to tell the story of Texans," he said.
The ITC's history with San Antonians is a half-century old, built on thousands of school visits, Folklife and Asian Festivals, and hundreds of exhibits detailing Texans' many cultures.
And so the question many are wondering is what will happen to the distinctive building, one of Hemisfair's few remaining structures?
"I don't know what the future of the building is, but what I can tell you is the ITC will live on. The ITC is not a building," he said.
A Sunday evening Zoom meeting between Hendrix and many shareholders — board members and others with long personal histories with the ITC — got quite contentious. Hendrix's focus was on the future but many questioned his communication with ITC staff and board, and receptivity to ideas offered by them.
A UTSA spokesperson told TPR Monday afternoon that the university has decided to temporarily step back from the plan and spend time taking community input before moving forward.
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