Changes are happening at the Costumes of the Americas Museum in Brownsville.
The museum, which opened in Dean Porter Park in 2005, merged with the Brownsville Historical Association as of Jan. 1 and will move from its current digs to the Old City Cemetery Center at 1004 E. 6th. The Children’s Museum of Brownsville will expand into the current space.
BHA Executive Director Tara Putegnat said the move and merger are aimed at strengthening the costume museum’s operation and that the changes have been in the works many months.
“They’ve been looking for the past year or so for better visibility,” she said. “They were kind of tucked away there in the back of the park. Most people didn’t even know that the collection existed.”
The pandemic took a toll on visitation, though even before COVID-19 hit BHA was discussing the changes with museum board members, Putegnat said, adding that “it just kind of fell into place.”
“The building needs some maintenance and some repairs done before they move in,” she said. “Of course the display will be different. We’re hoping to open our doors there sometime this summer.”
Putegnat said it may not be a permanent home for the museum, which she described as having one of the state’s top textile collections, featuring more than 600 indigenous and traditional costumes, though it will be home at least for a while — and the museum is certainly at home with BHA.
“Expanding outreach and visibility I think will really help put the collection on the map,” she said. “It fits our mission. We’re preserving and protecting but we’re also encouraging education in cultural arts and what all of that entails. There’s a story for each of those costumes.”
Cristina “Quiqui” Tijerina, former museum board chairwoman and now a member of BHA’s board of directors, said the new location’s footprint will have room for about 30 costumes at one time as opposed to about 50 now in Dean Porter Park. The museum began with a collection of indigenous costumes from across the Americas donated by Bessie K. Johnson, who formed a Pan American Round Table 1 (PART 1) in Brownsville in the early 1930s after moving here from Mexico City, and was an expert on Mexican folklore and native dress.
In 1997, PART 1 was invited to occupy part of the Mitte Cultural Education Center in Dean Porter Park, and the nonprofit PART 1 Costume Corporation was formed to safeguard the collection and manage the museum. The collection has only grown since then, and includes costumes donated by Brownsville pioneer families and costumes from the first Charro Days in 1938, Tijerina said.
“We rotate the exhibit to show as much as we can,” she said.
Tijerina said the museum is thrilled to have a new home and be part of BHA.
“I think we’re committed to the same thing here,” she said. “We want to add to the rich cultural and history that makes the city so unique. I think we have the same vision.”