The National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque’s South Valley just received a $500,000 federal grant. The money was requested through Congress and will be used to digitally archive records in the Center’s History and Literacy Arts program. The NHCC has a massive collection of photographs, documents and other materials in its permanent collection. The grant money will allow the Center to preserve these items for future generations while making them more accessible than ever.
NHCC Co-interim Director Noël Merriam explains that, “The funds were secured by Sen. Martin Heinrich. He’s the one who reached out to us to let us know that there were some funds available.” The $500,000 will be administered by the National Archives through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the grant-making arm of the Archives. Merriam says the money will go toward “both access and preservation.”
The Center’s History and Literary Arts Director, Dr. Carson Morris, says that the materials they seek to preserve come from “throughout the region, including crossing the border into Mexico. We do have some things from other countries, including political posters from Chile. So, it’s not all limited to the Southwest.” Genealogical archives, birth records, Mexican-American War records and paperwork dating as far back as the era of Spanish rule in New Mexico are among the historical items, while photographs, artworks, musical recordings and “items related to local businesses” represent some of the more modern contributions. Morris says if she were to make an “educated guess,” the majority of the items in the archive originate from Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood, where the NHCC is located. “Everything we have has been donated by some individual or some institution,” points out Morris. She says it’s only appropriate that the collection “honor the site where we are in the Barelas community,” adding, “We are very fortunate to have been a repository for all these amazing historical records and documents.”
The two Cultural Center directors have already had their first meeting with representatives of the National Archive. They must now develop a budget, write up a detailed work plan and timeline and submit it all by June. The money is expected to arrive by September of this year, and plans are already in place to hire a project manager, an assistant project manager, a photographer and someone to write a curriculum based on the items. “In conjunction, we will be developing a curriculum for K through 12 teachers to use as a resource in the classroom. We will provide digital versions of our primary source material,” says Morris.
In addition to photographing, recording and 3D-scanning the various items in the collection, upgrades will be made to the NHCC’s website, where the digitized HLA archive will live as a “searchable, multimedia database.” This will make the project accessible on a local, national and even international level. “One thing that is really striking is not the impact it will have in Barelas, but the impact outside of New Mexico,” says Morris. “People are not aware our city predates the U.S. Constitution. We want to show people the longevity of our community.”
The general public can hope to see some of the results of the federal grant by this time next year. In the meantime, the NHCC will be posting updates on the project in its bi-monthly newsletter. It’s a long-term project, but as the Center’s co-interim director points out, “This is an honor. We have to have respect for these objects and understand how valuable this is to the community.”