Trump’s Museum Visits?

Remember that moment in Chapter 29 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in which Neville is talking to Harry, Hermione, and Ron, filling them in on what they have missed at Hogwarts during their adventures searching for hallows and horcruxes? Neville says, “…he teaches what used to be Defense Against the Dark Arts, except now it’s just the Dark Arts.”

This scene is how I have felt for the past three weeks.

Meanwhile, my city, Washington, DC, is trying as hard as anyone else to prepare for the next four years. This evening on the bus, I overheard a conversation between two people who work either for or with HUD and the EPA, respectively. They were discussing which agency would have a harder time fulfilling its mission under its newly appointed secretary. Both agencies are in the midst of the transition process, like so many other federal agencies and buildings, including some that also serve as living museums or visitor destinations.

The White House is getting ready for its new First Family, and a treasure trove of memes show imagined conversations in which Vice President Biden describes, to a chagrined President Obama, the pranks he has planned. At the Capitol, offices will be prepared for newly elected legislators. Conspicuously absent from the frenzy of getting ready for new occupants is the Supreme Court, where the ninth seat sits empty, seven months after Justice Scalia’s death and six months after President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the vacancy.

Trump International Hotel (which I last visited on the Fourth of July in 2013, when I knew it as the Old Post Office Pavilion) is required to keep the historical tower part open to the public, though it is currently closed for renovation until “late 2016.”

Other museums will reflect the change in administration as well. At the National Museum of American History, we will have to wait at least four years to find out how the First Ladies Exhibit might change when a woman is elected president. Melania Trump will be added to the exhibit, and Donald Trump will be added to the exhibits of presidents at NMAH as well as the National Portrait Gallery.

While Trump is living (at least part-time) in DC, he will have the opportunity not just to be a museum subject, but also a museum visitor. I recently asked, on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog, what DC-area museum Trump should be sure to visit and learn from during his presidency.

The answers I received included:

  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)
  • A science or natural history museum
  • All the Smithsonian museums
  • All the museums

Although Barack Obama is not my Facebook friend, he answered my question too! In fact, he answered it back in September, before anyone actually expected Trump to be elected. Like a couple of my Facebook friends, Obama recommends that Trump visit the new NMAAHC, calling on Trump and all of us to “use our history to propel us to make even more progress in the future.”

May our history propel us toward more progress, indeed. Many of us are afraid right now. It’s up to all of us to work toward building a reality in which these fears do not come true.

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Seven Recent Reads – Election Edition

  1. In a thoughtful blog post published a day before the election, Rebecca Herz asks, “What relationship do museums have for shaping the public’s relationship with facts?” and questions whether the open-ended approach to museum education, in which visitors make their own meaning, contributes to a climate in which various bits of false information are held up as truth. This post is especially pertinent in light of Google’s and Facebook’s recent efforts to stymie the proliferation of fake news in their networks, and questions that have risen in the last few weeks as to whether fake news stories played a role in the election results.
  2. The Center for the Future of Museums posted the conciliatory “Healing the Partisan Divide,” eliciting a heated discussion in the comments. In this post are statistics about the strong prevalence of Democrats in the museum field, and an argument for diversity of political viewpoints in the field.
  3. The American Institute of Architects (which manages the Octagon museum in DC) wrote a statement congratulating Donald Trump, with a focus on the importance of rebuilding infrastructure. This Washington Post article discusses architects’ opposition to the statement, and how AIA has since backpedaled and apologized.
  4. The Council of Non-Profits posted a thorough explanation of how the new administration’s policies (as well as the results of local elections) might change key aspects of the non-profit world, such as employment laws and incentives for charitable giving. (As so many museum staff, especially in the DC area, are employed by either non-profits or government, I am also sharing this article on Trump’s plans for federal employees, which consist of scaling back pay, protections, and positions.)
  5. In New York City, the Tenement Museum has seen an uptick in hostile remarks about immigration since the election, according to this article. The museum is working to provide all staff with tools for responding to such commentary as it continues to interpret the history of immigration to the United States.
  6. Carly Dunne wrote an article in Hyperallergic about artist Annette Lemieux’s request that her work on display at the Whitney Museum, Left Right Left Right, be turned upside down in response to Trump’s winning of the electoral vote and thereby the presidency.
  7. Hundreds of Jewish historians have signed a statement on the election and the spike in hate crimes that followed. Most of the signers are affiliated with universities, but two represent museums (the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, and the Center for Jewish History in New York City). The scholars write,

“As scholars of Jewish history, we are acutely attuned to the fragility of democracies and the consequences for minorities when democracies fail to live up to their highest principles….We stand ready to wage a struggle to defend the constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans. It is not too soon to begin mobilizing in solidarity.”

For more on how museums are responding to the election, see this issue of Dispatches for the Future of Museums, as well as the #museumsthedayafter hashtag on Twitter.

And a question for readers: what museum should Donald Trump be sure to visit (and learn from) in the four years he will be living (at least part-time…) in DC?

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Veterans Day 2016

This gallery contains 3 photos.

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Latin American Museums in Washington, DC

First I want to share that I made a false statement when I said in a recent blog post that I plan to visit the new National Museum of African American History and Culture this month. Given how popular it is and how booked the free timed-passes are, it may actually be months or years before I visit.

Before and since this museum opened, people have been asking a parallel question: when will we see a national museum telling the stories of Latino history and culture?

The idea has been advanced for years, with the empty Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building as a favorite proposed site. Lawmakers, led by Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA), are pushing for such a national museum. Joining in the support, the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino website promotes a physical, national Latino museum and lists more specialized or localized existing museums throughout the country. As a DC resident, here is a list of local museums and cultural sites that somewhat overlaps with the website’s list:

Art Museum of the Americas is located a couple of blocks from where I work, and not too far from the monuments, the National Mall, the White House, and various other museums. It was my third Weekly Museum Visit, and I blogged about it when I visited a second time to see The Ripple Effect: Currents of Socially Engaged Art. As part of the Organization of American States, it works to further OAS’s mission to “put into practice the principles on which it is founded and to fulfill its regional obligations under the Charter of the United Nations.” These principles include peace, democracy, and eradication of poverty, and The Ripple Effect featured Latin American and Caribbean art that testified to these values.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Cultural Center in downtown DC provides another place to see Latin American art.  IDB was officially established by OAS in 1959. I visited a few years ago to see an exhibition of Colombian art, which gave me “the opportunity to feel the magic extremes and enjoy this creative nation through a combination of art, history, image, feeling, experience and commitment with the future,” as described in this press release. My own take on the exhibit can be found here.

Fondo del Sol is a small museum inhabiting a converted row house in the Dupont Circle neighborhood that provides a bilingual exhibition space for Latin American art. Its website emphasizes its role as a community museum. Like Art Museum of the Americas, it was also one of my Weekly Museum Visits. I visited toward the end of its opening hours, but the staff invited me to stay past closing time and watch the beginning of a documentary about the Spanish Civil War.

Plant, candles, fruit, vegetable, rock - nature altar art piece

Art at Fondo del Sol in 2010

While the Smithsonian at this time does not have a Latino museum in its Arts and Industries Building, it does have a Latino Virtual Museum and a Latino Center whose exhibits have historically often been on display at the S. Dillon Ripley Center. The Ripley Center also hosted the traveling exhibition Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches ten years ago, with a scientifically- and culturally-focused experience that included live aquarium displays, lots of interactives my preschoolers back then loved, and bilingual English and Spanish text.

small building with a domed roof with green leafy trees to the left

The Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center

In the demographically diverse Columbia Heights neighborhood, visitors can enjoy GALA Hispanic Theatre and the Mexican Cultural Institute. At GALA, I attended a screening of, and panel discussion following, The Goose with the Golden Eggs: Tourism on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast as part of the Environmental Film Festival in 2014. The theater offers bilingual programming as described on its bilingual website.

ceiling with intricate circular detail

Ceiling at GALA Hispanic Theatre photographed in 2014

I visited the nearby Mexican Cultural Institute today for the first time. In a beautiful old building with fancy furniture and colorful murals, the exhibits in the galleries were highly relevant to some of the most charged topics in today’s political debates and on people’s minds. The Overflow of Productivity Logic presents art that challenges or disrupts notions of productivity in a capitalist, consumerist society. A recurring theme was the role of the artist, thinker, or creator in a paradigm that only values quantifiable, utilitarian output as worthy of being called work. A second exhibit, DELIMITATIONS, documents an art installation that demarcated the border between Mexico and the United States based on the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819.

rectangular beige building with Mexican flag

Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC

More resources on the broad subject of Latino American history and culture can be found on the National Hispanic Heritage Month website. This heritage month wraps up today, October 15 – this year with an additional focus on the possibility of a future national museum.

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A German American Space at Gallery Place

The Gallery Pl-Chinatown Metro station is at the crossroads and the center of a million things, including several museums.  Within blocks of the three exits are the following museums and historic sites: the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, the International Spy Museum, and the German-American Heritage Museum, which I have never properly written about. (The now-closed National Museum of Crime and Punishment was also in this vicinity.)

I visited the German-American Heritage Museum (GAHM) in 2011 as a Weekly Museum Visit. Last year, I also visited the Goethe Institut (another cultural institution dedicated to German heritage) at its Chinatown location, before it moved to a different address in DC. Goethe Institut’s website lists GAHM’s building, Hockemeyer Hall, as one of many buildings in DC with ties to the German American community. Most of these buildings are located near the Gallery Place Metro, a booming part of DC today (I’ve heard a rumor that 7th Street is trying to be DC’s version of Times Square) with a diverse history, including a prominent population of German immigrants in the early 1900s, before it was known as Chinatown after an influx of the Chinese American community in the 1930s.

German-American Heritage Museum, as photographed in 2011. Dirndl, wall text, bust, pictures on the wall, benches to sit on, musical notes painted on the wall

German-American Heritage Museum, as photographed in 2011

GAHM is a small space with objects on display, text panels, an area set up for lectures with a podium and rows of chairs, and a staircase adorned with the names and pictures of famous German Americans. Among the objects and images I saw back in 2011:

  • An installation made of books written by German authors about the United States. (The literary theme of German American history is also evident in nearby Martin Luther King Memorial Library, designed by German American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe).
  • A cartoon depiction of Albert Einstein. (Artistic allegories for science and understanding the physical world are present as well on the Old Patent Office Building, now housing the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, by architect Adolf Cluss and sculptors Adolph Weinman and Caspar Buberl.)
  • A small exhibit about German music. (The Washington Saengerbund, started in 1851 and making use of a couple of DC locations, attests to the importance of music to the German American community in DC.)

Happy Oktoberfest!

Gallery Pl-Chinatown is on the Red, Yellow, and Green lines.

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National Book Festival 2016 – A Celebration

This year’s National Book Festival was, of course, a celebration of books. I heard six writers speak about their work (while three others were so popular that there was no room for me or many other fans at their presentations).

The event was a celebration of libraries: small, big, and biggest. A display of Little Free Libraries promoted the Take a Book, Leave a Book movement that adds whimsy and fosters literacy in neighborhoods around the country. (At another table, visitors could take and leave book recommendations. I accidentally drew from the jar two slips of paper that were stuck together, so I will be reading both Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak at some point.)

In the Pavilion of the States, delegations from U.S. states’ and territories’ official public library systems gave away bookmarks and brochures. The Library of Congress, which puts on the National Book Festival each year, was celebrated as a multifaceted resource. Its pavilion space inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center replicated the library’s beautiful walls and ceilings, while representatives at the microphone and at tables shared with the public the many offerings LOC provides as a library and a museum.

Museums were also a topic of celebration in one talk I attended, given by Tonya Bolden, author of How to Build a Museum on the Smithsonian’s newest site. Bolden was the only author I saw last week who stood at the podium and addressed the audience directly, rather than using an interview-in-armchairs format. She delved into the role of celebrations in her own life – growing up in multicultural Spanish Harlem, “I thought life was a festival.” Bolden spoke of the events and parades held by the many ethnic communities in the neighborhood of her youth, including the Italians marching their saints down the streets (similar to what I recently wrote about seeing in Italy).

Author Tonya Bolden, an older thin black women wearing glasses and a red top, speaks at podium, holding up her book, with National Book Festival partition panel in the background

Tonya Bolden speaks at the National Book Festival 2016. Her book, How to Build a Museum, is about the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

But the main focus of Bolden’s address was an occasion happening that very same day: the much-celebrated opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Bolden had not yet visited the finished museum; she would be attending its opening day a few hours later. I have not been yet either (I plan to go later this month, when hopefully it’s a little less crowded), but Bolden’s talk, along with news articles and social media posts, have done nothing but whet my appetite for this brand-new and very important museum.

In addition to being a celebration in itself, NMAAHC also deals with some very serious subject matter. One audience member asked Bolden how to broach tragic topics in history and in the news with young children. Bolden’s answer: Talk to children about these difficult issues, because “kids understand ‘not fair’ better than adults.”

The celebration of books, libraries, and museums continues even after another wonderful National Book Festival has ended, and I will be sure to write more about NMAAHC once I have visited.

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Lilycove at Shady Grove

Lilycove is not actually a real place anywhere near the Shady Grove Metro. Lilycove is a fictional city (with an art museum called the Lilycove Museum) in the imaginary world of Pokémon. The imaginary world of Pokémon, meanwhile, has recently taken over society. This takeover includes real-world museums, and it also includes the part of the real world that is near the Shady Grove station, the Red Line’s western terminus in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The Pokémon franchise has been around for 20 years, and includes an anime TV show and movies, comic books, and games (both electronic and card). I remember in high school, catching glimpses of the anime series as my brother watched it, and learning the various species’ names and types as he taught me how to play the card game. It was only this summer that my interest in the world of Pokémon was reignited, as interest in Pokémon simultaneously exploded far and wide with the release of Niantic’s augmented reality app Pokémon Go.

At first, I was reluctant to download the app. Isn’t reality interesting enough without being augmented? Isn’t there something a little…creepy about superimposing fake things on real spaces? And if I start playing this game, won’t I get addicted?

My brother and a good friend convinced me that I would love the game, so I did download it, and I did indeed become addicted. When the game loads quickly, works properly, and measures distance accurately, it is an incredibly fun way to spend time, giving me something to do during the walking part of my commute or providing that extra motivation to take a walk just for the heck of it.

The world of Pokémon overlaps its important locations with real-world places, including museums. Important sites in the game, Pokéstops and gyms, are real-life points of interest such as museums, libraries, churches, restaurants, and parks. Each Pokéstop (where you can go to pick up in-game items and XP points) contains a photo and short description of the real-world landmark. In some cases, the landmark may be so small or blend so well with the urban landscape that you might not have been aware of it until the Pokéstop pointed it out to you: a tree with a tiny memorial plaque in front of it, a quirky sculpture on a rooftop. (The Pokéstops are not always up-to-date, and some of the outdoor sculptures that appear on Pokémon Go’s map have been moved or removed in real life.)

Not every Pokéstop is museum-related, but a decent chunk of them are. Near the Shady Grove Metro –  which to my knowledge has no museums nearby – the Metro station itself, a restaurant, and a church serve as Pokéstops. But in downtown DC where I work, Pokéstops I can easily reach while walking around at lunch include a piece of art at the Renwick, a plaque outside the Octagon, and a gargoyle atop the Corcoran.

Photo of a phone showing the Shady Grove Metro Station Pokéstop, at the actual Shady Grove Metro.

The Shady Grove Metro stop is a Pokéstop.

Aside from the literal intersection of virtual Pokéstops and gyms with real museums, Pokémon Go also relates to cultural sites by tapping into some of the same human inclinations that bring people to visit and love museums. After all, Pokémon Go is all about exploring places and building a collection. An article on the psychology of Pokémon Go discusses two types of collecting, taxonomic and aesthetic. Pokémon Go, which encourages players to “catch ‘em all”, is an example of the former. Meanwhile, blogger Andrew Reinhard writes about Pokémon Go as a prime example of archeogaming, declaring that the game “might be the best thing to happen to archaeology (or at least archaeological tourism) in years.”

Despite how utterly enjoyable this app has been for me and countless other players, it has not blended seamlessly with reality, but rather, it has come with controversy, mishaps, and naysayers. While Pokémon Go certainly did not invent distracted driving or walking, the fact that it is meant to be played while walking exacerbates the likelihood that players become too absorbed in the game and too oblivious to real-world surroundings, leading to some unfortunate results. The game’s premise, promoting getting out and moving around in order to reap the in-game rewards, looks good on paper but can be tragic in areas plagued by landmines or crime.

The world of museums and tourism is divided on what to make of Pokémon Go (not surprising, given that these visitor destinations are not a monolithic category of places). Memorials and museums that interpret some of the most horrendous moments in human history, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, have, quite understandably, asked Pokémon trainers not to partake of the app in their spaces. (Just as Pokémon Go did not invent distraction or landmines, the Washington Post points out that the game also did not invent rudeness in solemn surroundings.)

Meanwhile, the game has been dubbed a gift to museums in one article, while another writer ponders whether the app is a blessing or a curse. From one scathing webpage which is not loading for me today, I fortunately had the foresight to copy the quote, “When a Pokéhunter arrives at a[n archaeological] site (drawn by the lure of a rich Pokéstop) they are in the classic state of Cartesian disconnect.”

Questions have arisen, in a legal sense or otherwise, regarding who owns virtual space. While the makers of Pokémon Go attempted to map their gyms and Pokéstops onto existing public spaces, some mishaps ensued – such as when a man living in a house that had been converted from a church began to notice people outside his dwelling at all hours, because his churchlike home had been designated a Pokémon Go gym.

Niantic has since created a method for requesting the removal of an inappropriate gym or Pokéstop. (Proposed legislation known as Pidgey’s Law would fine Niantic for not doing removing Pokéstops as requested.) However, as virtual and augmented reality continue to develop, challenges will pop up when virtual points of interest pop up. Cities may begin looking at zoning according to virtual reality among other factors; the small historic town of Occoquan, Virginia is trying to come to terms with being taken over by Pokémon Go due to its abundance of historical landmarks and its prevalence of Water Pokémon spawning along the river.

If it is agreed that people should have some control over the virtual layer(s) of their own space, additional questions arise: who decides on a particular building’s virtual accessibility, its owner or its tenant? How do we navigate the disagreements that the public may have about appropriate use of public areas? One Sunday this summer, I had lunch with a frequent library patron who said that she believes libraries are sacred and are not appropriate places for playing Pokémon Go. The following Sunday, I had lunch with a library employee, who mentioned that she knows people are playing the game at her workplace and has no issue with it.

While some museums have been forthright that their collections and the whimsical collection of Pokémon are incompatible, many other museums have embraced the app. For example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is noted in this article as one place in the city to go catch Pokémon and in this article as one art museum using the game to engage audiences. Shortly after the game was released, the museum hosted a Pokémon Go-themed Meetup during its pay-what-you-wish hours.

I visited the PMA nearly a decade ago, long before the advent of Pokémon Go. My friend and I explored the whole museum, and I photographed some of the art, including art depicting animals like a snake, a dog, and dolphins, as well as the Rocky steps. Today, visitors can go look for Ekans, Growlithe, and various Water and Rock Pokémon among the museum’s acclaimed art and famed architecture.

coiled snake made out of volcanic rock

Aztec Serpent sculpture, photographed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007. It may not be an Ekans, but it is a snake.

For those museums that do want to lure Pokémon Go-playing visitors, Preservation Maryland offers some tips here, and the Virginia Association of Museums raises some questions to help museum professionals consider the game. The Museum Playbook offers some guidance on utilizing the app in the museum field, and Museum Hack discusses how getting in on the Pokémon Go action can help attract millennials to informal learning sites. In her blog, Mar Dixon published a guest post examining the social facilitation that can happen in museums via Pokémon Go. Forward-thinking museum people are considering the possibilities that augmented reality could offer the world of interpretation.

Some additional examples of Pokémon Go in the museum include:

At art museums…

At history museums…

At science museums…

Whether you are searching for Pokémon among museum exhibits or at a suburban Metro terminus, I wish you luck in connecting to the server and catching 101 Magikarps. Stay safe, and keep it classy when you’re at a memorial or sacred site.

Shady Grove is a Metro stop and Pokéstop on the Red Line.

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