My fellow Tennesseans, we now have irrefutable evidence that a minuscule portion of your tax money is going to private museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions. DUN DUN DUNNN!!
Noting the attendance at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the writer of the article linked above asks, “If the museum and other attractions are seemingly doing well, why then, do they need taxpayer money?” But then, after citing evidence provided by the Chattanooga History Center showing that their visitors are economically beneficial to the community, he claims that the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center is located in a small community where the “economic development argument may not work,” and describes the museum’s low visitation and financial struggles.
So your museum doesn’t deserve public support if business is booming, and it doesn’t deserve public support unless business is booming. I confess that I don’t find this line of argument persuasive.
I’m also irked that the article describes the institutions receiving these funds as “tourist attractions.” The Chattanooga History Center and Alex Haley’s home do indeed attract tourists, but referring to these historic and cultural institutions as “tourist attractions” conveys the impression that this is equivalent to giving taxpayer-funded grants to Six Flags or a miniature golf course.
Russell Kirk defined a conservative as “a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions,” and noted that conservatives believe the past to be “a great storehouse of wisdom.” If we can’t spare even a small portion of our public funds for history and culture, then what is it we’re trying to conserve?
It’ll be at the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison starting Feb. 25, and it’s about the war’s impact on NJ civilians. Too bad I’m not within driving distance; I’d really like to see it.
From Andy Hall comes word that the Mariners’ Museum has been forced to temporarily close the USS Monitor conservation lab. The Monitor wreck and the artifacts are government-owned, but the Mariners’ Museum has undertaken the task of conserving these items for the American people. The museum depends on assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for this project, and NOAA is waiting on congressional budget approval to see how much funding they can provide.
If you want to help out, sign this petition to let the folks in Washington know that this is a project worthy of support.
If you were wondering which artifacts made The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects but didn’t want to shell out the shekels for the book, you’re in luck. Here’s the whole list, plus an interview with author Richard Kurin.
Speaking of the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History is getting a costume from that Spider-Man musical. Seems like an odd addition for the NMAH. I saw that show when I was in New York this past summer, and it was pretty meh.
There’s a movement underway to add a new National Museum of the American Latino to the Smithsonian system. The NMAL would be one of several Smithsonian museums focused on the experiences of particular ethnic groups, alongside the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (slated to open in 2015). There’s also been some recent activity in an effort to put a women’s history museum on the National Mall, so we could be seeing quite a few new D.C. museums focused on the history of various minority groups in the coming years.
I’ve always been of the opinion that you can’t have too many museums. Going to museums is one of my favorite things to do, so every new facility means something else I’ll get to enjoy visiting.
At the same time, though, part of me worries that these new museums might lead to some unintentional “re-segregation” of public history. The National Museum of American History is a popular destination, and “American history” is a subject broad enough to appeal to a lot of people. Trying to encompass everybody’s history under one roof has its disadvantages; you don’t get as many chances to cover minority-related subjects. But when a general museum does mount an exhibit on the history of a minority group, it exposes visitors of a variety of backgrounds to the material, even visitors who wouldn’t normally visit a museum focused solely on minority history. How many people who weren’t necessarily interested in twentieth-century black history got to experience the NMAH’s highly successful “Field to Factory” exhibit on the Great Migration? Indeed, one wonders how many thousands of people have been exposed to specialized aspects of history at the NMAH just because they came to see the Star-Spangled Banner and then decided to explore the other exhibits.
I should point out that I’m not saying your average white visitor to the Smithsonian is a closet racist who will consciously avoid a black or Latino history museum. I’m just saying that it might not occur to them that such a museum would be of interest. The problem I’m concerned about here is visitor apathy, not hostility. White Americans shouldn’t think of black or Latino history as “somebody else’s” history, but as critical components of American history as a whole.
And I definitely don’t want to give the impression that I think the construction of any of these museums would be a bad thing. I just hope white visitors to D.C. don’t assume the new museums are irrelevant to them and miss out on all they have to offer.
On the other hand, maybe the addition of new museums focused on minority history will have the opposite effect. Maybe a lot of white visitors to the Smithsonian will pay their first visit to a black history museum when the NMAAHC opens, since the new building will be right there on the Mall, in a location frequented by tourists who are passionate about their country’s past.
It seems like we’re seeing a lot of these stories lately. Somebody broke into the Jean and Price Daniel Home and Archives in Liberty, TX and made off with part of the collection. If you’ve got any information, call the Liberty Police Department at 939-336-5666
The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD just opened an exhibit on PTSD among Civil War soldiers.
The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA isn’t letting any wall space go to waste. All their public restrooms now feature cartoon panels about the history of using the toilet at sea, mounted so that you can read the text right there while doing your business. I kid you not.