- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution's museums can now add one more stop: the National Museum of the American Indian yesterday opened its welcome center.
"I can't remember a day more exciting than this," said W. Richard West, director of the museum.
It has been 14 years since serious negotiations were held and political actions taken to establish the museum on the Mall. Mr. West's involvement started about 11 years ago.
The welcome center, currently housed in a trailer at Independence Avenue and Fourth Street SW, showcases models of the future building, which looks a bit like a warped version of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
"The lines were taken from nature, and there are very few straight lines in nature," Mr. West said of the building's curvilinear shape. He said the building should look as if it were shaped by the forces of wind and water.
The museum is expected to open in the summer of 2004.
Participating in the welcome center's opening ceremony were Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, and Clayton Old Elk, a member of the Crow tribe in Montana, and Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small.
"We believe this is going to be one of the most attended museums in the world," Mr. Small said, adding that the museum would create a unique opportunity for understanding and reconciliation among American Indians and Americans of other backgrounds.
The museum's construction costs have increased from an estimated $110 million in 1989 to $219 million this year. "I think what everyone needs to remember is that the $110 million was an estimate from 1989 and it only covered construction," Mr. West said.
The new figure is not only updated, but includes the programs and exhibits that will be available at the opening of the museum, he said.
With a recent $10 million donation from the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut and an expected $30 million appropriation from Congress, the Smithsonian needs to raise about $70 million, with $50 million for construction and $20 million for the opening. "We feel like we can raise the money fairly easily," Mr. West said. "Native people have always supported us."
GBQC Architects of Philadelphia, with architect Douglas Cardinal, provided the museum's concept and design; builder CLARK/TMR, A Joint Venture, received a $56.7 million contract to construct the 260,000 square-foot museum.
The museum's facade is made of kasota stone, a type of limestone from Minnesota. The building is 99 feet high with its main entrance to the east, facing the U.S. Capitol and the morning sun. It's surrounded by natural elements, such as trees and water.
"The sight and sound of water is also very important to native people," Mr. West said.
Mr. Inouye, who likened his involvement in setting up the museum to a journey, said he was pleased that he was nearing the end of his journey. "This will be the last building on the Mall, but it will be the first building to celebrate the life and times of the first people," he said.
Mr. Old Elk, who performed a blessing of the building, said the museum is "fantastic" and "will complete the Mall," but questioned the timing of its creation. "This is a long time coming. Maybe it should have been one of the first buildings on the Mall, not the last," he said.

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