A plan to build a museum focused on the Holocaust and Nevada survivors of genocide is one step closer to reality after a bill to lay the groundwork for the project failed to clear the Legislature this year.
The Nevada Commission on Tourism voted Tuesday to express support for a privately funded feasibility study on establishing the Nevada State Center for Tolerance: Holocaust and Genocide Historical Resource Center or Museum. The study is projected to cost about $250,000 and would establish whether there is a market for a full-fledged Nevada public museum or something smaller, such as a traveling exhibit.
“This is so important,” said Commissioner Herb Santos Jr. “We have black marks in the history of the world. We have to make sure that our children and their children and their children — it doesn’t get swept under the rug and they know about it so that mistakes and events can’t happen again.
The original idea presented in the 2019 session as AB257 contemplated a museum exclusively focused on the Holocaust. The bill, which would have designated the museum in statute and required a feasibility study, never advanced out of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, so supporters went back to the drawing board and expanded the concept to reflect the experiences of people in the Armenian Genocide and ongoing strife in Syria.
It would take a specific focus on Nevadans affected by genocide. About 10,000 Israeli-Americans and 20,000 Armenians call Nevada home; about 2.5 percent of Nevada’s population is Jewish, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.
“There’s a gap. There are 29 states across the country that have some sort of Holocaust education center,” Dillon Hosier, chief advocacy officer with the Israeli-American Civic Action Network and presenter of the idea, said in an interview. “Nevada students should be exposed to … understanding the horrors of the past or what’s the Armenian Genocide or the Holocaust or what’s happening in Syria today. And we shouldn’t have to go to L.A. I shouldn’t have to go to Washington D.C. They should be able to have something that is Nevada-specific.”
Hosier said his group has significant pledges within the Jewish community toward the feasibility study. Once that private money is raised, Administrator Peter Barton of the Nevada Division of Museums and History would conduct the study.
Barton’s experience includes work developing the U.S. Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.
Hosier said the hope is that the project is a true public-private partnership and that the museum is eventually adopted into the collection of Nevada state museums. Doing so would require action from the Legislature and likely at least some public funding, in concert with donations.
“If the museum is to be built within the state, we want it to be built using the same professional standards of the existing museum system,” Hosier told the commission, “and consideration of the public — the potential for visitors or tourism, and most importantly, with the state’s public school students in mind.”
The next step for the project is to go before the Board of Museums and History for approval and to establish timelines and other technical details of funding the study. Hosier said it would take a few months to raise the funds for the study, and about a year to complete the study, but he wants to finish the bulk of the work before the 2021 session so the museum might be formally added in state statute.
He said the project is important now because of the rise of antisemitism.
“I think it’s a function of the tone in this country now — it’s really changed,” he said, noting that the U.N. released a report this week documenting a rise in antisemitism around the globe. “That’s the first time that U.N. has ever done that. So for the U.N. to recognize there’s a problem with antisemitism is a significant milestone.”