Sunday, June 30, 2019

How Do You Make a Site of Conscience?

A week or so ago, the memory site, 23.5 of the Hrant Dink Foundation opened to the public in Istanbul, Turkey. I've had the opportunity to visit this site twice, once a year ago, and once in late March of this year, and I wanted to share the site and their development process in the hopes it might be useful to anyone thinking about opening any kind of historic site--not just a site of conscience.

To begin--who was Hrant Dink?  He was a prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist, persecuted several times for his beliefs, and assassinated in 2007 on the steps of the office of the newspaper he edited, Agos.  It is these offices that are now 23.5,  the site of memory.  Why 23.5?  April 23rd is Children's Day in Turkey and many places around the world.  April 24 is the day in 1915 when the Turkish government began rounding up and disappeared--the start of the Armenian genocide.  So this public site straddles both the joy of children and the pain of genocide--with the hope of reconciliation.

A year ago when I visited the site, it still felt like an office.  Big notebooks of the ongoing assassination case files lined one wall, and Dink's office itself looked as he left it.  Nayat Karaköse and the team from the Hrant Dink Foundation sat and talked with us about the plans for the site.  There was a big story to tell, in a relatively small space.  How would it work?

First, there were a series of community consultations, asking the questions. In the memory site, what do you want to see? what do you want to discover? what issues are to be emphasized? what are the deficiencies that you expect to be corrected? what kind of educational and visitor programs do you wish to see? what are the themes and approaches you would never want to see?  Participating in these were artists, sociologists, communication specialists, curators, Agos newspaper employees, members of the Dink family, representatives of various civil society organizations, academics and students.

Nayat had visited dozens of Sites of Conscience around the world.  It might not be possible for you to visit all these places, but the Foundation's report is exceptionally useful (and free to download!).  These visits helped solidify what this memory site would be, in part by identifying some key characteristics of meaningful sites. The most compelling sites:
  • "have guides who take part in linking truths to present realities with a dynamic narrative, providing commentary and hold a dialogue with the visitor; 
  • have objects exposed that embody the past, rendering it visible, so that small stories on which big narratives cast a shadow can come to the fore; 
  • promote hope and incorporate messages that encourage visitors to contribute to a better future; incorporate visitors into the memorialisation process, providing a space for their experiences, ideas, feelings and suggestions; and
  • are dynamic, constantly being updated, opening the way to new exhibits and thus able to present different experiences to visitors at different times."
When I came back this spring, as the team worked madly to get the space partly ready to share with those of us who were there for the conference Memory Sites, Memory Paths: Towards Another Future which brought together experts from memory sites and academia to share their work.  On that visit, I could see the ideas come to life--and to see how, as it often is, developing strong interpretation is often a process of pruning away ideas, until the strong branches of the concept come into view.  Now, a visitor is encouraged to reflect;  they meet Hrant Dink as not just a heroic figure, but as a human, struggling with ideas and the world. Visitors see the impact his work and life had--and ponder how they can have an impact as well.

Any historic site must wrestle with many of these same questions and ideas.  The answers you find will be different--but the asking of questions, rather than a certainty, must be an integral part of the process. 

When we visited this year, it was just days before this year's election for the mayor of Istanbul mayor.  Giant election posters from the ruling party could be seen everywhere.  The results of that election--the victory of reformer Ekrem İmamoğlu were overturned and a second election was just held in June. The result: an even bigger victory margin for İmamoğlu and a hopeful sense of possibility away from a government that has imprisoned thousands for their beliefs.  Human rights are still endangered in Turkey, as they are in many places around the world, but the opening of this site, like so many other Sites of Conscience, is cause for optimism.  As Hrant Dink wrote,
"Perceptions on both sides can only change in an environment of contact and dialogue. Therefore, ‘solving history’ is not actually a real concept, or a problem. There is nothing to be solved about history anyway… There is only a part of it that has to be understood. And understanding necessitates a process of learning, enlightenment and comprehension, spread out over time."
My best wishes and great admiration to the entire team of this project!

Monday, May 27, 2019

"One single person, one single life, one single fate"

What does it mean when we talk about memorialization?  I'm just back from AAM in New Orleans (more to come on that) and my hotel room overlooked Lee Circle, where a huge plinth is now crowned by nothing, after the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in 2017.  So memorialization has been on my mind. But a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Stepan Cernousek of Sites of Conscience member who was joined by Russian journalist Sergey Parkhomenko, founder of the Last Address Project that brought home the power of memorialization work. (Thanks to Hunter College for co-sponsoring the presentation with Sites of Conscience).

Stepan's project is documenting the vast number of gulag camps in the former Soviet Union and creating 3-D models and virtual reality experiences.  He shared for the first time, a great film documenting one of his field expeditions:  part adventure story, part disaster tale, but most importantly, a deeply human story of loss when he and his team finally reach a camp. They find remnants of letters and other evidence of prisoners.  They're obviously touched and a torn letter is carefully reassembled.  All of a sudden that person who wrote the letter, still unknown, becomes real to us from across miles and decades.

Sergey Parkhomenko's project is modeled on artist Gunter Demnig's project Stolpersteine, installing brass "stumbling blocks" in front of the last homes of choice of those killed by the Nazis.  I've come across these brass blocks in Rome, in Amsterdam, in Berlin, in Paris:  all together Demnig has installed more than 70,000 stones all over Europe.  Parkhomenko decided the same thing should be done for victims of repressions in the Soviet Union and now is working to install steel plaques on buildings in Russia and other former Soviet states.  

One thing I find striking is these projects rely on the consent of current homeowners for their installation--and their success.  Stalin's legacy is a complicated thing in Russia, and when asked about whether it was difficult to get permission, Parkhomenko said that when the conversation was centered on the personal, on what happened to a single person who lived at this house, people always said yes.

"Normally we discuss history as something statistical or static, as something geopolitical, as huge numbers, or in terms of Super-Powers who fight each other, in terms of industrialization, in terms of the Second World War, in terms of competition and different political systems. Our idea of all these [memorialization] projects is to see history attentively through one single person, one single life, one single fate, one set of eyes. It changes everything. It changes the whole discussion - if you start to discuss not in terms of big history, or big fighting, or big power, but in terms of one singular human life, one life."

I'm in awe of these men--and so many other men and women around the world who are doing the difficult, emotional work of ensuring that all of us can see the past attentively and change the ways in which we use history to remember. How can you do this work in your own community, wherever you are?

Last Address Project "Here lived Yeraterina Mikhailovna Zhelvatykh, typist, born in 1905, arrested 11/01/1938, executed 04/05/1938, rehabilitated in 1957"
Letter addressed to a prisoner, author unknown,
Former Lee Monument, New Orleans

Saturday, April 27, 2019

#AAMSMJ 2019-- See You in New Orleans!

I'm so pleased to be joining an incredible cohort of colleagues as Social Media Journalists for the American Alliance of Museums upcoming annual meeting in New Orleans, May 17-23.   We'll be blanketing the conference from start to finish, dawn to dusk, sharing out impressions, connections, ideas and more.  In particular, I'll be covering the Getty International Fellows and trying to take a look at global perspectives. Of course, checking out sessions from members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

Here are just a few of the other sessions I'm particularly looking forward to:

  • Decolonizing Development, on the ways to rethink both inclusive staff environments and donor outreach.
  • Mistakes were Made--don't miss your chance to hear--and share--big career mistakes--and have a great time along the way.
  • Connecting the Dots:  A Game Show for Museum Professionals, with Kathy McLean as game show host!
  • Kimberly Drew's Keynote.  If you don't follow @museummammy you should.  It will be great to hear from her in person.
  • Labs, Salons and Experiments for Creative Museum Change
  • Partnering with the Community to Create Collaborative Socially Engaged Exhibitions, where both staff and community members from the Newcomb Art Museum share their learnings from a collaborative project.
  • Is that Hung White?  Getting Real about Diversity in Exhibitions--a great group of colleagues dive into something rarely explored.
  • Is Rapid Response Collecting a Trend or the New Sustainable Standard for Collections? hearing from staff at the Brooklyn Children's Museum

I'll also be doing a stint as a volunteer in the Museums and Race Lounge on Wednesday morning, from 8;30-10:30 AM.

Here are my fellow SMJs--you can follow all of us using the hashtags #AAMSMJ and #AAM2019
  • Janeen Bryant, Empathetic Museum
  • Hannah Hethmon, H. Hethmon Consulting
  • Matthew Ramirez, Minneapolis Institute of Art
  • Angela Gala, MuseAlley
  • Amanda Figueroa, National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Carla Galfano, American University Museum
  • Linda Norris, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
  • Saleem Penny, Chicago Children's Museum
  • Ravon Ruffin, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Mark Schlemmer, New-York Historical Society|
  • Lanae Spruce, National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Helen Yuen, American Visionary Art Museum
Read more about them here.

Plus, I've never been to New Orleans, so there's sure to be some food and architecture in the mix. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter as @lindabnorris; and if you see me at the conference, be sure to say hi.

See you in New Orleans!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Thanks J. William! My Fulbright Experience Ten Years On

The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.
                                                                                     Senator J. William Fulbright

This week in New York City, I had a chance to catch up with Ihor Poshyvailo, now director of the Maidan Museum in Kyiv--the museum that will both memorialize the 2014 Revolution and serve as a platform for dialogue.  But equally important to me, he's the first museum professional I met when I arrived as a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine ten years ago. We've figured out how to get together almost once a year--once at AAM in Seattle, during his own stint as a Fulbright Scholar in Washington, DC, and often in Ukraine, including a series of workshops on Visitor Voices in Museums in cities all over Ukraine, along with our friend Eugene Chervony. (Road trips in Ukraine are their own unique experience).

Those ten years have been full of changes for both of us:  new jobs, new travel--and plenty of deeply concerning changes in both our countries as well. But also I think this connection--and the many, many more I still have with Ukraine--are evidence of exactly what Senator Fulbright imagined when introduced legislation for this program in 1945, just after the end of World War II.  

My international experience was really limited when I applied to be a Fulbright Scholar.  I had done an AAM/ICOM exchange in Hungary and had traveled in Europe with my husband and daughter.  But I had never lived anywhere else full-time.  I wanted to challenge myself, so applied, and thankfully, the Ukraine Fulbright Program had (and continues to have) a significant commitment to cultural practitioners coming to and from Ukraine in the program.  

It's hard to put into words what I learned from my Fulbright experience.  But here are a couple paths I've been down as a result:
  • Watched with pride and appreciation as Ukraine's museums changed over the decade:  new leadership, new ideas, new exhibits and programs that challenge a single hegemonic narrative.  
  • I've evaluated the state of Ukraine's national outdoor museum, judged a pottery competition, studied Ukraine's cultural heritage policy, and taught a course at Kyiv-Mohyla University (a big shout-out to my understanding students the first year).  
  • I first met Rainey Tisdale, my amazing co-author of Creativity in Museum Practice because she was doing a Fulbright at the same time in Finland.  We found each other's blogs and found much in common--and eventually a book!  And in 2017,  that book was also published in Ukrainian.
  • Fellow Ukraine Fulbrighter Sarah Crow and I discovered a shared love of Ukrainians' approach to food and founded the Pickle Project, leading to, among other things, a summer of train-riding and eating all over Ukraine as we learned that civic engagement and food go hand-in-hand.
  • I came to love--and understand a bit--about all of Ukraine.  I studied industrial history in Donbass; visited Crimea and learned about Crimean Tatars thanks to Peace Corps volunteer Barb Wieser; drank mid-day shots in the Carpathians with cheesemakers; and celebrated April Fools Day in Odessa.  
  • Shared ideas at American House in Kyiv on creativity, dialogue and more, thanks to Christi-Anne Hofland
  • Worked on exhibits about those who still work at Chernobyl, human trafficking, and a connected story of quilts, Mennonite, Ukraine and the Netherlands (shout-outs to Michael Forster Rothbart and Olga Dotter).
  • I watched online with awe as my museum colleagues--along with so many Ukrainians- stood in protest on Maidan to usher in the 2014 revolution and now, five years on, see so many of them still working to build the nation they imagine and deserve.
And out from Ukraine came so many other experiences:  museum-going adventures in Prague, Moscow, and the Netherlands with Irina Leonenko (actually maybe the first person I met in Ukraine).  Teaching in Latvia and Lithuania; workshops in Romania and Albania; and now my job at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.  I travel now to all kinds of places (last week, Istanbul!) and I always bring what I learned from my Fulbright experience:  to connect with people, to really listen, to bring a sense of appreciation to every culture and every place, to be my authentic self.

After proposing significant cuts in the program the last two years, thankfully the current administration has proposed level funding for 2020. I encourage all of you to consider applying for a Fulbright.  Here's information on the Fulbright Scholar Program and here's information on the Fulbright US Student Program.  If you're reading this from outside the US,  just Google Fulbright and your country and it will probably bring you to your own country program.

At some point during lunch on Thursday, Ihor and I looked at each other and said, "transformative."  That's what it was for both of us.  It can be the same for you.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Looking at Visitors Looking (and Learning)

I continue in my fervent belief that anyone and everyone who works in a museum should at least spend some time out on the floor observing what visitors do--what they look at, what they say, what they don't look at.   A few weeks ago I spent time observing a prototype exhibit at Maison des Esclaves (the House of Slaves) where the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is working with the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Government of Senegal, to revitalize the site and its interpretation.  Gorée Island, where Maison des Esclaves is located, is Africa's first World Heritage Site, a place of great importance and meaning.

We produced the prototype exhibit (designed by Studio Tectonic here in the US and produced by Mandarine in Dakar) to learn more about how different audiences made use of different kinds of information and perspectives.  The story of Maison des Esclaves is a complicated one, and one of our goals is to make that complicated story,  based on new information and research, accessible for visitors. We also are connecting the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to contemporary issues of slavery, hoping to inspire action on those issues.  This prototype is a capsule version of the full new interpretation.

Here's just a few photos to show what we learned:

People like maps!  In this case, at least two maps allowed visitors to their own place in the larger world:  a very simple map of the transAtlantic slave trade and a map showing the rates of contemporary slavery around the world both got lots of attention.

Exhibit text in two languages has extra value for all kinds of people. One girl, a native French speaker, was very carefully sounding out the English-language text for her father.

People make unexpected meanings.  Evidently, the school opened by LeBron James has a central staircase that greatly resembles Maison des Esclaves.  Did he intend it? Who knows.  But we did hear that discussion.

Visitors love sharing their own perspectives--and they are usually great at connecting past to present. There was also lots of pointing and sharing, as people looked at the exhibit together.

We need to spend additional efforts planning time and space for people to reflect on both the historical and contemporary issues.  These are hard stories.

To our greatest surprise--people of all ages, from all over the world, were reading, intently reading, our exhibition text--even taking photos of the text. The eagerness to know more about this history was really inspiring to us.

We also had a chance to chat with girls from Mariamma Bâ School on the island. They had visited the exhibition the week before and they had so many great ideas, observations and concerns.  So much so that as we were leaving, three girls hustled down the path to share more ideas with us. When I think about our primary audience for the exhibit--it's those girls, those girls who can shape Senegal and the world.

What did you learn in your exhibits today?  No excuses, get out there!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Meet the 2019 Mentees

Every year it's a difficult choice to select mentees for the year.  All of you who applied had great things to say, moving stories to relate and tough but fascinating questions to discuss.  It takes me a long time and usually another pair of eyes to help me puzzle through.  Thank you all who applied!

It gives me great pleasure to announce this year's two mentees:  Tadia Lynch of New York City and Jeanne Rank of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Tadia completed an exhibition -specialized, MBA in Arts and Cultural Management and since then has worked with both private and non-profit arts organizations with a focus on program development, audience engagement, and arts access.  She is now Department Coordinator for International Programs at the Fashion Institute of Technology, helping to support her greater goal of advancing the Caribbean Arts Community through web-based platforms.

I ask different questions every year, but always love asking about a childhood creative act.  Tadia's was "a story pop up book that I illustrated and narrated the fictional story of a flying fish."  This year I also asked about a memorable museum experience of the past year.  Tadia's was the Charles White Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. She wrote, "The works were moving and illustrative of a dynamic experience as a POC. However, it was particularly memorable to me because of the interactions between visitors and the works."

What big questions will we be talking about this year?  Here's what Tadia's interested in:

  • How to grow an audience that is emotionally and mentally invested in a museum’s mission?
  • How to serve and create a dialogue with a broader audience?
  • How to ethically present polarizing topics in a non-biased way?
  • How to not be passive, but to stimulate a greater conversation?

Jeanne Rank has spent more than 15 years working in museums curating exhibitions, learning activities, and new strategies and is now working as a senior curator at the Danish Architecture Center in Copenhagen.

Her creative activity intrigued me:
As a child, I loved all kinds of aesthetic expressions and sciences, however my most creative experience is possibly the day I realized that I could design my own life. I used to live in a quite dysfunctional family and as a child I didn't understand much but was shy and insecure, and often bullied. When I was 11, we moved to another part of the country, and I realized that this was my chance to define myself in a completely new way. So, I did: I decided that I was an outgoing, strong person, and that changed life and led me to where I am now: as the first in my family I have earned a university degree and built an exciting career, I created my own beliefs about parenthood and have a wonderful family, and overall, created a life where I keep learning and also give back by mentoring others. Of course, life is not always easy, but I always have my core belief that we can design our life and future.
Jeanne's best museum experience of last year: The exhibition 'The Future Starts Here' at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. "
I loved this show as it was designed to help people to actively reflect over their own part in designing the future today. Not only it was the theme of the exhibition, but I really liked how the curators/museum succeeded in engaging people’s minds and this way transform an exhibition into learning and action. I think that the ideal for museums and exhibitions of the future must be creating transformational experiences that engage people in reflecting over their own personal role and this way connect to every day and the future. What I also loved was the interdisciplinarity of the objects - hereby embracing the complexity of the world, the connection to the self and the world. 
Jeanne posed one big question about her own museum that will lead to many others.
How can I help the organization Danish Architecture Center (DAC) I work for develop into the international museum-center they would like to become? Museums have a special ability to embrace and unite all people and connect the past with our future in the presence. This leads us hopefully to discuss how we can help present museums to design not only their own future, but also to take part in designing the future for all of us.
Tadia and Jeanne will each be writing a blog post this year, so you'll be hearing more directly from them.  And again, many, many thanks to all of you who shared the mentorship post, and even more to those who took the time to apply.  You all inspire me!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Session Title: Could Be Better

A few weeks ago, I spent a very long day in a Philadelphia hotel room with several dozen colleagues, from around the country, reviewing more than 160 proposals for the upcoming American Association for State and Local History conference, co-sponsored by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.   It was my first time ever on a national program committee although I've been a successful session proposer and sometimes, an unsuccessful session proposer.  Here are my (I take full responsibility for these as my opinions only) suggestions on writing better session proposals that will cause at least a couple program committee members to sit up and take notice.

Have a good session title. Be understandable, perhaps funny and brief.  Don't play too much inside baseball, thinking that everyone will understand.  Beware of what comes after the colon, and don't just use a keyword from the conference description to attempt to make your session relevant.

If you're considering having all of your presenters from a single institution, presenting as a case study, re-consider.  These often sound a bit too celebratory or just seem like a "here's how we did this" and the funder is making us talk about it.  If your project is really great and you really think everyone on staff can contribute a needed perspective, consider adding an outside moderator or commentator to ask tough questions that really encourage reflection.

Is the panel the best way to do this?  As museum people, we know people learn in all kinds of different ways.  Increasingly, conference organizers are encouraging new ways to presenting--embrace the challenge!

Who's telling whose story?  If you're talking about the interpretation of enslaved people,  your project--and your presentation--should have representatives from African American communities, or African American scholars or curators, on your panel.  Same for women, for indigenous people, for different religious groups or whoever it is you're talking about.  (this is a very brief comment on an issue that deserves considerably greater depth given its critical importance if we want to change our field towards equity.)

Who's the best person on your staff to present this topic?  Is it the director?  the curator?  or ...  Think, don't assume, and directors, use this opportunity to lift up and encourage your staff--that kind of professional support will only build your own reputation in the field.

Tell a compelling story  Make the reviewers fascinated by what you're doing.  Our small group of reviewers fell in love with one facilities-related proposal, despite the fact that most of us actually knew nothing about the topic.  Write well, pose interesting questions, have someone from outside the field read before submitting. 

As in exhibit label writing--avoid the passive voice and consider your audience--both on the review panel and at the conference.

Don't think you're such a big deal that you don't have to include your or your speakers' relevant bio information.   The program committee came from all over the United States, from institutions big and small from local history museums to culturally-specific museums, to big state institutions.   Be aware of course, that we can Google you too.

Be aware of the field.  If you're presenting on something that you did at your museum that seems like the greatest thing since sliced bread, be sure that it's different or a creative take on other similar work.

Saving a few minutes for questions is not interactivity.  Real interactive sessions are great, amazing places to do deep learning around all sorts of topics.   One of my favorite sessions as a presenter is when two colleagues and I challenged our participants to design historic house experiences around big cultural issues--but our historic house was the Simpsons.  If you're saying it will be interactive, really be interactive and tell the committee how.

Why does it matter?  If you can't articulate why your session matters, then it won't matter to your audience.  I think people come to conferences not just to learn facts, but to learn ideas and concepts, to be encouraged to think differently, to gain new perspectives.  You can't do any of that unless you can tell me why your session matters and to whom.

Many thanks to all those on the program committee who were patient with my many opinions and who shared theirs--and to all of you who take the time and energy to propose sessions.  We considered them all deeply and seriously. I learned a lot!  Hope to see many of you in Philadelphia at AASLH--so many amazing sessions coming.

Below:  the view from the guard tower at Eastern State Penitentiary at night.  Just one more reason to come to AASLH.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018's Baker's Dozen of Great Museum Experiences

It's time for this year's baker's dozen of museum experiences that have surprised me, moved me, or intrigued me throughout the year.  Sometimes I get a chance to blog about them during the year, sometimes I don't, but all of these stick with me. If you've met me in person this year, you've probably heard me talk about one or more of these--so here they are, in no particular order for you, dear readers!

A special shout-out to colleagues at all these places--and all the other places I visited this year-- who have created bits of magic and deep meaning from the raw materials of buildings, objects, and most importantly, human stories.

House of Leaves, Tirana, Albania
In my work these days,  I visit many museums and memorial sites that tell the story of repressive regimes--but this place really surprised me.  It told the story of only one part of Albania's past, sharing the details of the surveillance of virtually every part of Albanian society.  It raised questions about victims and perpetrators. about pride in work even when it's repressive, about the ways in which societies come to terms (or not) with the past.  All of these complicated questions revealed in imaginative exhibition design that used objects combined with numbers and graphs (doesn't sound exciting, does it?  but it was).  My post on the House of Leaves and two other Albanian sites is here.

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT*
I began working with the Stowe Center in 2013 on the re-interpretation of Stowe's home to more effectively engage visitors with all parts of their mission: We preserve and interpret Stowe’s Hartford home and the center’s historic collections, promote vibrant discussion of her life and work, and inspire commitment to social justice and positive change.  But my new responsibilities at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience meant that I hadn't had time to see the new interpretation fully installed over the last year.  But this fall, I did, and a walk-through with Shannon Burke, their director of education and my dear partner throughout the process was an interesting retrospective.  We saw some of our good ideas fully installed and also remembered some bad ideas that, thankfully, never came to fruition.  It was still moving to me, even though I knew all the backstory.  But more importantly, this is the place that I use as an example when I talk about the power of prototyping.  We experimented and tried again, and again, and again, learning all the way.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia*
I did get a chance to write about this experience and consider to think about how we can show care to our visitors.  Full post here.

Maison des Esclaves conversations with students,  Gorée Island, Senegal*
Since I began at the Coalition almost two years ago, I have been working with Senegalese and American colleagues on the revitalization of Maison des Esclaves, Africa's first World Heritage Site and a Coalition founding member. Every bit of it is a complicated, fascinating experience to be unveiled later this year. But this spring, I got to spend a few hours with the young women students at Lycee Mariama Bâ on Gorée to understand more about their interests and knowledge regarding the site.  These smart, lively young women had so many questions and observations for us.  One key finding was about the importance of evidence.  They wanted to know how we know what we know about the site.  But they were also incredibly thoughtful about the legacy of slavery in Senegal and of the critical place Maison des Esclaves can play in discussing today's human rights issues.  In a word, #girlsrule.

Memorial Museums, Vilnius, Lithuania
I came to Lithuania to co-teach at the Baltic Museology School but my colleague Vaiva Lankeliene was good enough to spend a beautiful June day with me in Vilnius.  It was a nice of contrasts:  the weather was perfect and Vilnius is lovely.  But Vaiva knew of my museum interests, so she put together a day where we visited museums and sites of atrocities related to both the Soviet and Nazi regimes. We had worked in Ukraine together on a report on Ukraine's cultural heritage, so we had some shared experiences to draw on--but Lithuanian history was new to me.  We visited the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, the Memorial Complex of the Tuskulenai Peace Park, and the Memorial at Panerai and all along the way, talked about history and meaning, and who gets to tell history and who is left out and more and more.

Theater of the Senses, MK Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, Kaunas, Lithuania
As a part of Baltic Museology School, I had one of the most surprising experiences ever.  The Theater of the Senses introduces you to the works of MK Čiurlionis without using your sense of sight. The goal was not to have you touch the paintings, but to rather, somehow, feel the painting through your other senses.  You were blindfolded, with a guide the whole time, as you are led through the gallery.  I was hugged by mountains, smelled the forest, heard funereal music and more.  It required a huge level of trust and ability to let go, which proved not easy for me, but a lesson on so many levels.  I was unfamiliar with the artist's work, so when I went back through the gallery, trying to match his works with my experience absolutely deepened my understanding of the works.

La demanda inasumible. Imaginación social y autogestión gráfica en México, 1968-2018 Amparo Museum, Puebla, Mexico 
This fall, I had a few extra days to explore Puebla, Mexico after a conference, and,found myself at Museum Amparo.  This exhibit, The Unassumable Demand looks at posters and other graphic arts from the 1968 student movements in Mexico until today, emphasizing the collective, often anonymous nature of the work. In writing about the exhibition, the curators state,
The student movement of 1968 in Mexico is not part of the past, not only due to the commemorations and revisions that have taken place over the last 50 years or to the tributes to the victims of those traumatic events. During all this time, invoking the 68 meant to denounce that the problems to which the movement had responded were still valid –injustice, repression, impunity–and, at the same time, to claim that the forms of social organization and imagination experienced back then continued to be reinvented. The movement of 1968 not only raised a series of political demands that were never fully met, but made it through direct modes of action that were equally unacceptable to the regime. Until today.
Why did I like this exhibit so much?  First, the works were tremendous and compelling.  Second, the installation design felt temporary in just the right way. Third, I learned some history, and lastly, I left with a sense of urgency about change.

National Museum of Beirut, Lebanon
To be honest, my expectations of the National Museum in Beirut were a bit low.  I find national museums sometimes outdated and not very interesting. But Nathalie Bucher made sure I understood the meaning of the place in the country's recent past.  The museum was on the front line during the Civil War and still bears some bullet pockmarks on its front columns.  An introductory film that Nathalie made sure I watched told the story of how curators and the director did their best to protect this cultural heritage from destruction.  They encased the largest sculptures in cement coffins, hoping they would survive the decades-long war.  Many of them did, and they are now beautifully installed in the carefully restored building that both honors the history and for me, at least, gives hope for a future for Lebanon where so many different cultures have crossed and combined for centuries.

Boxer at Rest, Palazzo Massimo, Rome, Italy
I had time for a quick stopover in Rome and went back to Palazzo Massimo for a quick visit.  It's a lovely museum overall, right near the train station and well worth your time (also, key for Rome sometimes, never crowded).  But this Greek statue of a boxer at rest, from thousands of years ago, and excavated in Rome in 1885, thrilled me again.  It's both the statue itself, immensely human, but also the photo alongside,  showing the statue when found. An archaeologist on site that day wrote, "I have never felt such an extraordinary impression as the one created by the sight of this magnificent specimen of a semi-barbaric athlete, coming slowly out of the ground, as if awakening from a long repose after his gallant fights."

Kanal Museum, Brussels, Belgium
A place I hadn't heard of until I had a rainy day to kill in Brussels.  An extension of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, it's in the former Citroen factory, a huge space to explore.  I caught it right in the middle of its experimental phase:
From 5 May 2018 until 10 June 2019, following a radically experimental approach, the former Citroën garage will turn into a platform open to a reflection on the stakes of the museum of the future. Curated by Bernard Blistène, the director of the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, a multidisciplinary programme will seek to fill the spaces that were recently emptied of their functions and left in their current state. Many of the proposals seek to echo the identity of the site, but also its human and social history, tangible across the different workshops and offices and in the different fittings of this vast complex.
What did that mean?  Some of the installations I saw reflected on the building itself--installations about workers in workers' locker rooms.  Others were inspired by the space.  Others, by materials--an exhibition of artwork made from steel, as the factory once used. And in still other spaces,  I wasn't sure how the artworks connected, but it didn't matter.  The space felt informal--and fun to explore.  Lots of families were there--and how often would you feel welcomed to bring a toddler on their scooter. I hope the museum doesn't give up its experimental nature and continues to be a place where ideas are both welcomed and constructed.

War Childhood Museum, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina*
I visited this museum in the spring and then in June, also had a chance to speak on a panel at the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul with Amina Krvavac, the director.  The museum sprang from an online request from founder Jasminko Halilovic for those who experienced the siege of Sarajevo (the longest siege in modern history) to share their experiences.  First a book, now a museum, it's the simplest, yet incredibly compelling of experiences.  One object, one story; another object, another story.  From these objects and stories, from things as simple as mended pants and canned goods, a visitor gains a fuller view of the war.  But more importantly, the museum has now expanded and works with children affected by the war in a number of places, develops educational materials related to those experiences, and provides us all with the space to rethink the idea of children in war--they are not merely victims, but distinct individuals whose creativity and courage can inspire all of us.

Casa Vicens, Barcelona, Spain 
It's the building.  While in Barcelona I visited several Gaudi buildings--and rediscovered that every tourist in Barcelona wants to see those same buildings.  But Casa Vicens,  outside of the center and newly opened in 2017,   It's Gaudi's first first house, and it was the kind of place, in both its exuberance and its concern for family life, that made you want to move in.  I loved exploring up and down, inside and out.

Shared Reconciliation Program, Kigali Genocide Museum, Kigali, Rwanda*
I did find time to write a blog post about this--one of the most compelling experiences I've ever had and a reminder that reconciliation is possible.

The experiences marked with an asterisk are members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.  I urge you to check out our work and to consider how your museum, memorial, or memory initiative can be involved.  Have questions--comment or email me!

If you're interested in knowing ALL the museums I visit, please check out my Google map.  As I finished this post and went searching for pictures, I thought about so many other museum experiences this year:  in Saint-Louis, Senegal; in Romania, in Newfoundland, and so many more--far too many to mention, but all of them in my memory.

If you want to share your own great museum experience of 2018, please comment below or elsewhere on social media (on Twitter or Instagram, tag @lindabnorris).   May 2019 bring even more compelling experiences, no matter where you are.