Champion of Human Rights at Friendship Heights

“Next station stop, Friendship Heights,” the Metro train driver announced once. “Last station stop in the District of Columbia. Also the first station stop in the state of Maryland.”

He was correct – with multiple entrances along the DC-Maryland border in NW DC, the Friendship Heights Metro is in both jurisdictions.

Gandhi Memorial Center

Gandhi Memorial Center

If you walk southwest along Western Avenue from the Metro, you will reach the Gandhi Memorial Center in about one mile, on the Bethesda, Maryland side of the street. Maintained by the not-for-profit Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation, the Gandhi Memorial Center, according to the website, “houses headquarters for the Foundation, a library and special meeting rooms for lectures and films depicting the life and activities of Mahatma Gandhi and the cultural heritage of India.” It is staffed entirely by volunteers.

I visited the Center in 2014, when it was showing the art exhibit Akshara by Shanthi Chandrasekar. In this space dedicated to a historical figure and his culture and religion, an art exhibit was on display that explored the scientific underpinnings of language. It was a lot of interdisciplinary packed into a relatively small space.

On the day I visited, the artist herself happened to be there. She engaged me in interesting conversation about her work and its inspiration, like languages whose alphabets are ordered based on the degree to which the mouth opens when making the sound. In the course of our conversation, Chandrasekar brought up an idea that has stayed with me: that human institutions (such as the dowry and the caste system) start out with good intentions but then become corrupted. This outlook was different from what has generally been my belief, that humans’ intentions, as well as our ability to implement those intentions and achieve the desired outcome, gradually improve over time.

Is the Gandhi Memorial Center a museum? An art gallery? I ran a search on the Center’s website and could not find any references to these terms. It is, I suppose, most accurately described as a specialized library with a few permanent sculptures, and two rooms adorned with temporary art exhibits, whose all-volunteer staff puts on cultural programs and puts out a regular publication that focuses on a spiritual understanding of Gandhi and big ideas like truth and peace. Perhaps it is appropriate that a site dedicated to these ideals is located near a Metro station that has a positive ideal in its own name.

Friendship Heights is on the Red Line.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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