In the aftermath of shocking, harmful, or confusing events, people often need a place to safely comprehend and cope with the event. While churches and places of worship can be great resources for this, many museums also open their doors to those in need following such an event. As places of culture, history, and art, museums are places to have debates and intellectual discussions about times of injustice in history. However, museums are also important places to discuss current events, especially when those events deal with socially, emotionally, or politically charged topics. Museums are a space that can facilitate productive conversation about these topics and events while also providing the option for those who are upset to have a quiet place of reflection.
In April 2015, the National Museum of African American History and Culture participated in a symposium to address the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The symposium welcomed a variety of speakers addressing topics including cities across the country that experienced racially charged violence and the national conversation that the violence had ignited. I think the role of the museum in this important and ongoing conversation is captured beautifully by Lonnie Bunch, the NMAAHC’s founding director in this article on the Smithsonian website.
Bunch wonderfully argues that a museum should be involved in national conversations, especially those that can be advanced by looking at history and culture. While the national conversation on #BlackLivesMatter continues today, the idea of the museum as a safe space is also extremely relevant in the aftermath of the presidential election. The results of the election were shocking and outrageous to many. The morning after the results were announced, I was delighted to see my Twitter feed full of museums tweeting that their doors were open to those who needed a space to comprehend the news and many even waived their admission fees.
These images are only a few of the tweets that were on my Twitter feed, thanks to museum professionals and organizations that I follow. It’s encouraging to see museums across the nation having the same response to an event that has had a huge impact. I think museums are a great place for people to go after an event such as the violence during Spring 2015 or the election of 2016. Museums can serve a variety of purposes for whatever someone is looking for, whether they are looking to heal, to comprehend, to converse, or any other form of response.