2016 has been a terrible year. We have been collectively mourning the passing of too many beloved celebrities, entertainers and visionaries and if that wasn’t enough, the politics started to get ugly. Uglier. First there was Brexit and more recently Donald Trump was elected to the most powerful office in the world.
Needless to day, as bad as 2016 was, the next few years won’t get any easier. Is that pessimistic? Maybe. I’d much rather be pessimistic and proved wrong, than optimistic and disappointed.
I don’t usually get political on this blog – it’s something I do for fun, something I do to share my love of museums, their work and their treasures. But museums tell our stories. They help us make sense of the world. Some might see themselves as neutral spaces, some might see themselves as activists, but wherever they fall within that spectrum, museums are inherently political because politics shaped our stories.
With the falllout of the results of the EU Referendum and the 2016 Presidential elections, I have noticed museums speaking out more and more.
— Children’s Museum IN (@TCMIndy) November 17, 2016
Their message is one of coming together, of learning from each other to build understanding. That they are signposting to all sorts of resources beyond their walls is to be commended. Children are the future, the museum is giving them the tools to make the future a better place.
Museum’s can also be a shelter from the storms, both metaphorical and literal. In this piece, a journalist explains why they took their daughter to an art museum after the election. It is a powerful read. The motivations were emotional rather than political, but the museum was seen as a haven. They write:
I didn’t know what else to do. I could only think to find beauty and to be quiet there. But I think it was a good thing to do, and I recommend it to you, to my fellow parents wondering what to say to your children.
The writer quotes Iris Murdoch, who said “Children, if they are lucky, are invited to attend to pictures or objects, or listen quietly to music or stories or verses.Look, listen, isn’t that pretty, isn’t that nice?’ Also, ‘Don’t touch!’ This is moral training as well as preparation for a pleasurable life.”
I’m just going to let that ‘don’t touch’ comment sit there, but the idea of it as moral training is… interesting.
And from the UK’s perspective? I would recommend taking a look at Museums as Sanctuaries from Hate by Robin Clarke.
The world is going to be a hard place to live in for the next few years at least. Museums may not seem like they can do much to halt the tide of impending doom but they can. They can remind us of the good, the beautiful, the best of humanity – as well as reminding us of the worst too. The past is a warning as well as a wonder. Let’s heed that warning. Let’s do something. Let us take up the gauntlet and fight for the values we believe in.