This will not be a post about police brutality or riots or whether these are the proper terms for the heartbreaking events that have happened not too far north of me (and, for that matter, all over the country). That blog post would take more energy and wisdom than I have right now. What I am writing now will just be a museum-related post on a museum-themed blog, about the effect of the last few days’ events on Baltimore museums and other cultural venues, and how these organizations are reacting and relating to their audiences.
While it will not be an exhaustive list, Baltimore does have a great many museums, and I have tried to research as many as I can to see what updates they have posted on their websites and social media, or how they otherwise have made the news.
(Note: I aim to focus on the ways in which museums are responding to the protests, helping their audiences process what has happened, engaging with their online and onsite visitors, relating their collections to the unrest, and contributing to the community. Some museums’ posts have shown a more specific and decisive stance on the events than others. I am not trying to make a “Who Is on Which Side” list, and I see the issues as much more complex than one side versus another.)
Many posts and tweets have been to announce logistical updates: we are closed, we are open, we are rescheduling our big spring event until a later time. Events that had originally been scheduled for times that would keep people out after the curfew have been canceled or postponed.
Two major annual events – the American Visionary Art Museum’s Kinetic Sculpture Race and FlowerMart in the neighborhood of Mount Vernon – have been postponed. Meanwhile, AVAM has posted a number of photos of their celebrated works of art, in a show of love and support for their city. AVAM and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum have both posted on Facebook this form to help coordinate connecting interested volunteers with entities and residences that need rebuilding.
The library system in Baltimore City, Enoch Pratt Free Library, is keeping all of its branches open (though the neighborhood branches are closing early each day this week). Recreation centers are staying open. These community spaces are actively welcoming the students whose schools have closed due to the state of emergency – many of whom depend on school for breakfast and lunch. Independent bookstores Red Emma’s and Ivy Book Shop are open for business. Red Emma’s, also a restaurant and coffeehouse, has been offering free meals to students, as well as collecting food donations to distribute elsewhere. Other restaurants that have donated free meals to students include Joe Squared and Bottega Italian Restaurant.
Although the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra had to reschedule a number of evening events due to the curfew, they also put on a free Peace Concert Wednesday, April 29, at noon in response to the events of the past few days. Arts organizations like Gallery 788, Area 405, and the Contemporary have also responded with events such as free art activities for students out of school and a benefit art auction. The Baltimore Museum of Industry is offering free admission through Sunday, May 3.
Port Discovery Children’s Museum provides this list of resources for discussing the protests, and the things being protested, with children. B&O Railroad Museum postponed its event starring beloved anthropomorphized train Thomas the Tank Engine, and responded to false social media rumors that Thomas had been stolen from the museum in the course of the riots.
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum has been extremely active on Facebook the last few days, posting everything from a roundtable discussion on Ferguson, to quotes from museumgoers on how their community could be made better, to music recordings and dance videos, to photos of positive images from the protests in Baltimore. (While researching on museums’ Facebook pages, I generally noticed a sudden change in the topic and nature of the posts on Monday, April 27, but in the case of the Lewis Museum, these issues have been a recurring theme in what they post to their Facebook audience.)
Walters Art Museum director Julia Marciari-Alexander said on Monday that the arts have a responsibility to the community to be a source for healing.
“Museums should be places where people can have conversations about difficult subjects in a safe environment,” she said. “We’re only going to get through this if we talk.”
In its most recent newsletter, the Maryland Historical Society speaks of the importance of understanding modern events in their historical context, stating “The Society has the collections and resources to take a long look at the sources of urban unrest and trouble.”
The Jewish Museum of Maryland asked its Facebook audience for thoughts on an article headlined, “Why – And How – Baltimore Jews Must Act Now.” Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and its Baltimore Art + Justice Project are compiling “an archive of the cultural production efforts that are happening in the midst of our Baltimore Uprising” and asking for folks to contribute the art they have made in response to the protests.
If there are other cultural institutions whose responses to the recent events should be included in this post, please let me know in the comments. I am posting this with hope for safety, healing, and justice for all.