From the September 11 Memorial and Museum to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to the Holodomor and Chernobyl Museums in Kyiv and Gulag museums in the former Soviet Union, to Holocaust memorials and museums in Europe and the United States, interpretation at memorial museums has become a part of our international museum practice--and perhaps more importantly, these museums have become important ways for the public to understand violent, complex and often horrifying aspects of our common history. As we reframe the idea of museums into a third space, with a community-centered focus, it's more important than ever to consider the range of questions that these museums provoke in our work.
On Monday, April 30, 9:00-10:15 AM, at the AAM Annual Conference, I'll be joining an talented group of colleagues for an open dialogue exploring the interpretation at memorials and memorial museums. Chaired by Stacey Mann, Director of Learning Strategies, Night Kitchen Interactive, Philadelphia, PA (who did an amazing job moving our session from idea to reality), the presenters include Wendy Aibel-Weiss, Director of Programs, Tribute WTC Visitor Center; Danny Cohen, Lecturer, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL; Ian Kerrigan, Assistant Director of Exhibition Development, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York, NY and me. The session sprang from all of our contributions to the fall, 2011 issue of Exhibitionist: Museums, Memorials, and Sites of Conscience.
As a group, we've identified a list of key questions for discussion. A few of the questions on our list:
- How do collective memories of different atrocities and violent events differ across time and between communities?
- Why do visitors make a pilgrimage to contemporary sites of tragedy?
- In this
age of instant global communication, who “owns” an international tragedy?
- Are there age-appropriate guidelines to exhibitions that focus on human tragedy? How can museums engage children and younger audiences in these topics?
- How might the marginalization of particular histories impact collective memory and collective action?
- Should memorials and ways of commemorating be designed to change / shift over time? If so, how?
- How do we balance individual loss and collective stories?
- Who determines the "truth" of a memorial museum?
- What happens when the "truth" presented by an authority changes? or when the authority changes?
But we've designed this as a conversation (we promise, no endless talking heads)--so we'd like to hear from you, whether or not you'll be at the conference. What questions do you have about memorials and memorial museums? What do you want to make sure we share our perspectives on? What do you wonder about? What issues do you think memorial museums are frightened of facing? What do you think the long-term impact of these museums can be? Please weigh in here in the comments with questions, ideas and perspectives; plan to join us on the 30th; and of course, check back here for a full report.
Image: Brian Kusler on Flickr