Once again, one of the threads I am pulling out of our day coincides with the needs for museums and the individuals who work in cultural institutions to be civically engaged. At the beginning of our course Judy defined Civic Vision for museums as institutions that are a “key civic player with responsibilities used for growth and social justice” (Empathetic Museum Maturity Model). At the National Museum of Natural History Hans Sues passionately discussed the importance of working to protect our natural environment and especially the world’s ocean resources, like coral reefs. He offered the NMNH up as a resource of truth in the midst of a sea of competing and politicized view points revolving around climate change (which, echoes the sentiments in one of my blog posts from last week). By doing so, he establishes the museum as a community and national civic resource.
As Sues continued the tour he excitedly introduced us to new preservation techniques, exhibit designs and what scientists have deduced about the evolution of people. All the while school children darted to and fro, exploring, interacting and taking in the multi-sensory exhibits. Although it made our experience as grad students a tad more difficult, it was satisfying to see a younger generation finding science and the world around us relatable, and hopefully inspirational. Hopefully, the museum becomes a civic steward 1,000 times over as generations of children realize that they too can be ocean stewards.
Sues pointed out that the currant political climate makes knowing accurate information and preservation difficult. This same sentiment was exactly the same conundrum that inspired Dr. Michael Walsh to spend over nine years of his life in Cyprus preserving medieval art and the cultural heritage in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Walsh’s humble and grassroots efforts to preserve culture in the face of a disunited and hostile political environment was inspiring. His message that scholars and academics, who proceed with thoughtful and selfless designs, can be leaders in society is a model for us all. In the midst of a rapidly changing world, it is important to take small steps in the right direction (like restoring one painting) and see if those steps can build into something the world will one day recognize as invaluable.