The Institute of Texan Cultures, an educational center in San Antonio, dedicated to promoting understanding of the state's varied ethnic makeup, was established by the Fifty-ninth Legislature on May 27, 1965. The original mission was to develop and implement an appropriate plan for the state's participation in HemisFair '68; to plan exhibits related to the history of Texas, its development, resources, and contributions; and to design and construct a building suited to housing these exhibits, giving due consideration to its utility for state purposes after the fair.
The importance of this project was indicated by the allocation of additional revenue by the Sixtieth Legislature, bringing the total investment to $10 million. The institute, a permanent state agency located on HemisFair grounds in San Antonio, was designed to study the ethnic groups that settled in Texas. While not a museum, the institute displayed relics, artifacts, and personal memorabilia, but only those that had a direct connection with telling the story of the people in each ethnic group. The exhibits made use of sound, color, movement, and atmospheric design.
R. Henderson Shuffler guided the research projects and formed the original staff. The institute's continued function is to bring together, on loan, fragments of Texas history collections from museums and archives throughout the state, to produce filmstrips and slide shows on segments of Texas history, and to publish historical pamphlets and books. ITC was put under the University of Texas System effective June 5, 1969, and its official title became the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. In February 1973 the institute became, more specifically, a part of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The institute was funded by biennial legislative appropriations, grants, contributions, and funds generated by the sale of publications, audiovisuals, other products, and the rental of the institute's facilities, as well as special event and exhibit floor admissions. Museum grounds include the Back 40 which displays an outdoor living history area with such structures as a one-room schoolhouse, an adobe house, and an army fort barracks. In addition to maintaining about 65,000 square feet of exhibits featuring some twenty-seven cultures and ethnic groups, the institute hosts various annual and seasonal events, including the Asian Festival, Spring Break on the Back 40 and Texas Frontier Week, Texas Trails and Tales, and the Texas Folklife Festival. The Institute has hosted LIFETIMES: The Texas Experience, a radio program featuring information and entertainment related to Texas people and places; has conducted fieldwork to document folkways in South Texas and East Texas; has partnered with academic scholars; and has sponsored numerous traveling exhibits, performances, and lectures through the years. Memorial Memories is an annual musical tribute to America’s military personnel. The Institute maintains a library with resources on cultural and ethnic history as well as more than 3.5 million images in its historical photo collection and more than 700 oral histories. By 2009 the ITC welcomed almost 300,000 visitors. In 2010 the Institute became a formal affiliate with the Smithsonian Institution.