Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reflections on relocation (part 1)

Please take a look at a post I just published on History@Work about my experience relocating from Michigan to Georgia.  I welcome comments and additional advice.


Friday, December 12, 2014


Given recent events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and Staten Island, NY, I would like to join with my museum blogger colleagues in posting a statement about the appropriate role of community museums and historical sights in promoting understanding among people of different races and backgrounds:

Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events
The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?
Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge. University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the#FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players to rock stars, are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.
Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, allmuseums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.
We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines. Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as  “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.” We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.
There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role—as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit—in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?
We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Is there equity and diversity in your policy and practice regarding staff, volunteers, and Board members? Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do these issues relate to the mission and audience of your museum? Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?
We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.
Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups that are hoping to organize workshops or public conversations. Museums may want to use this moment not only to “respond” but also to “invest” in conversations and partnerships that call out inequity and racism and commit to positive change.
We invite you to join us in amplifying this statement. As of now, only theAssociation of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case. This is a concern of all Americans. We are seeing in a variety of media—blogs, public statements, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook—that colleagues of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are concerned and are seeking guidance and dialogue in understanding the role of museums regarding these troubling events. We hope that organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums; the Association of Science-Technology Centers; the Association of Children’s Museums; the American Association for State and Local History and others, will join us in acknowledging the connections between our institutions and the social justice issues highlighted by Ferguson and related events.
You can join us by…
  • Posting and sharing this statement on your organization’s website or social media
  • Contributing to and following the Twitter tag #museumsrespondtoFerguson which is growing daily
  • Checking out Art Museum Teaching which has a regularly updated resource, Teaching #Ferguson: Connecting with Resources
  • Sharing additional resources in the comments
  • Asking your professional organization to respond
  • Checking out the programs at The Missouri History Museum. It has held programs related to Ferguson since August and is planning more for 2015.
  • Looking at the website for International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. They are developing information on how to conduct community conversations on race.

Participating Bloggers and Colleagues
Gretchen Jennings, Museum Commons
Aletheia Wittman and Rose Paquet Kinsley, The Incluseum
Aleia Brown, AleiaBrown.org
Steven Lubar, On Public Humanities
Mike Murawski, Art Museum Teaching
Linda Norris, The Uncataloged Museum
Adrianne Russell, Cabinet of Curiosities
Nina Simon, Museum 2.0
Rainey Tisdale, CityStories
Jeanne Vergeront  Museum Notes

Friday, November 07, 2014

The exclusive campus

Lullwater Preserve on the Emory University campus. Photo credit: Alans1948, flikr.com
The term "exclusive" is bandied about willy nilly these days by credit card companies and tourism boards. Every day, millions of people are enticed with direct mail promising exclusive access, an exclusive preview, an exclusive deal. All you have to do is pay and you, too, can join the "exclusive" club with all the millions of other cool people willing to fork over the dough.

In our capitalist society, exclusive is synonymous with "cultured," "fashionable," "desirable," "superior." Advertisers wouldn't use it nearly as much if they thought it rubbed people the wrong way.

And yet, it has always made me uncomfortable. Perhaps it comes from being the great-granddaughter of Jewish immigrants.  Perhaps it comes from being the cousin of a lynched freedom rider. Perhaps it comes from being a die-hard believer in the American ideal that we can create a better nation from uniting and cross-pollinating our cultures.  So many of us fled from places seeking to exclude us from the potential for prosperity and freedom.

Of course, freedom is a double-sided coin. Freedom is affirmative, sure. We want to be free to travel, to speak our minds, to be protected equally under the law, to have our legal tender treated the same as everyone else's.  But for many, true freedom comes with the ability to keep other people out.  Such is the freedom that comes with property ownership.  Owning property means safety from encroachment, protection for our self-expression, (yes, I really meant to paint those lawn chairs bright orange!), a space for our children to play. People own property, and so do institutions.

There are all kinds of entities and institutions in this country.  There are businesses with hours of operation, churches and synagogues with members and visitors, government offices, and of course, universities.  Universities are noble of purpose: they are institutions of higher learning.  Their goal is to advance the human project of understanding the universe in which we live and to train people for valuable roles in society. Some universities are public, and some are private, but all claim to contribute to a "universal" endeavor toward socio-cultural advancement.

It seems to me, though, that interpretations of public and private are regional and cultural.  Universities tend to own large swaths of property and play an unusual role in the communities that support them.  Community engagement can take many forms.  On the basic level, it includes paying appropriate taxes, observing local laws, sponsoring charitable events.  On a greater level, though, it can include providing a welcoming space, an inspiring space for friends and neighbors.

I grew up in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, on the "other side of the tracks" from the fabled halls of Princeton University.  However, I always felt welcome on Princeton campus.  I spent many a pleasant afternoon perched in the elbow of a large metal statue in front of the campus art museum, reading novels or dreaming of music.  We paid for parking, sure, but there was enough parking in the town of Princeton to enable this kind of interaction with the university.  I could pretend I was a college student, admire all the perceived intellectual activity going on around me. (Of course Princeton has a history of exclusion, but it's been doing pretty well on the inclusion front in recent years.)

Atlanta seems to be structured differently. Two weeks ago, I set out on a Sunday morning with my husband and son seeking a quiet forest in which to walk for a few hours on a beautiful fall day. We read about the Lullwater Preserve in a guidebook of Atlanta forests and, since we live only ten minutes from the park entrance, we though we'd check it out for ourselves.  We knew we were townies when it came to Emory University, but we figured that our part of DeKalb County would be considered part of the Emory community.  However, after spending twenty minutes driving around looking for nonexistent visitor parking within walking distance of the entrance to the preserve, I decided to take a closer look on websites for Lullwater to learn more. The official Clairmont Campus entry on Lullwater references the park as a resource for "Emory students, faculty, and staff" but talks in pretty broad strokes about the "Emory community."  However, small print on the Atlanta Trails website notes that Lullwater is only open to Emory faculty, staff, and students with ID.  It seems that visitors who comment on Yelp have ignored this rule with some success, but it's definitely enough to deter a family from a peaceful outing.

Emory University is a fine educational institution with a lot of solid research going on.  However, it is not a welcoming institution. "Emory University's mission is to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity." But one must ask, is it necessary to exclude some members of the human community from entry into the campus's sacred space in order to advance this mission?  

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Playgrounds post #1

When I was a little girl, I considered myself to be something of a playground connoisseur. Everywhere I traveled with my family, we would be sure to check out the local playgrounds. Favorites would warrant a return visit.

Before my son could walk, playgrounds would tantalize us with their bright colors and promise of a joyful public realm just beyond our reach.  Now that my son is a bonafide toddler, we are free to begin exploring the glorious array of playgrounds on offer in greater Atlanta.  Future posts will highlight special places we go out of our way to visit, but this first post will outline our go-to playgrounds guaranteed to provide at least an hour of diversion for the two of us in Decatur.  Next post will cover some of the Atlanta playgrounds we've visited thus far.

1) The Decatur Toy Park is owned by First Christian Church of Decatur.  Although it is not technically a public park, it is free to enter and enjoy and is a frequent haunt of stay-at-home moms and dads, babysitters and nannies with babies and toddlers in tow.  Although its centerpiece is a traditional playground and swing set most likely rated for 2-5 year olds, the park is the final resting place for every Little Tikes, Fisher Price, and off-brand plastic playhouse, kitchen, riding tractor, push-mower, and mini-slide you can imagine. The etiquette of the park ensures that "everything belongs to everyone" and children must learn to share as best they can, refereed by adults on the spectrum of checked-in to checked-out. The park is a proving ground that kids don't mind second-hand toys and that our cultural tendency toward gendering ("kitchens" for girls and "workshops" for boys) is rendered meaningless when toddlers are given a chance to explore all options.

  • Ground cover: sod, blacktop, and mulch. 
  • Play structure: plastic slides with metal steps and platforms
  • Swings: two big and two baby/toddler
  • Other features: plastic toddler toys and riding toys scattered throughout
  • Setting: Part shade/part sun
  • Ideal age range: 1-5
2) Although not a traditional playground, the Wylde Center Oakhurst Garden on Oakview Road, has a play area featuring a sandbox with digger toys and slides, and a unique Cobb playhouse made from earth and fitted with attractive nooks and crannies.  The garden also features a pond home to frogs, a chicken coop with very friendly residents, and beehives.  This is a peaceful destination for parents and young children offering many features to explore with few opportunities for real trouble.
  • Ground cover: sod, mulch, sand
  • Play structure: Cobb playhouse and two old plastic slides (close supervision for the youngest children recommended)
  • Other features: many different plants and animals. Natural trails to explore in addition to raised garden beds.
  • Setting: Part shade/part sun
  • Ideal age range: all
3) Scott Park is located in downtown Decatur, right next to the library and right behind the recreation center. This park is compact, located in a beautiful setting and very convenient to downtown. The play structure has bars that encourage young climbers to hold on tight as they ascend (and especially descend) the steps.  The play structure also features musical drums and bells which are very popular with kids of all ages.  There is a medium-sized slide just right for beginners and a higher tandem slide.  There is also a great oval track around the whole park and picnic area that makes for a great place to stroll a sleeping baby until he/she wakes up.
  • Ground cover: mulch, blacktop, sod on the outskirts
  • Play structure: metal and plastic. On the safer side for a new walker but with a few nerve-wracking precipices. 
  • Other features: Beautiful gardens maintained by master gardeners and community volunteers, tennis courts, picnic tables
  • Setting: Mostly shade
  • Ideal age range: 1-12
4) Adair Park on the west side of Decatur has a reasonably nice playground and a large playing field, but it doesn't have anything special to offer the youngest user.  The playground is probably better suited for a slightly older child, and the location, between busy College/Howard Avenues and Ponce de Leon, is not ideal for someone walking from another neighborhood.  Worth an occasional visit, but probably not a go-to local park for us.
  • Ground cover: mulch, sod
  • Play structure: metal and plastic. Oriented toward a slightly order set of children
  • Other features: off-leash area for dog owners
  • Setting: Some shade, some sun, depending on time of day
  • Ideal age range: 2-12
5) Mead Road Park is a great place to practice walking on multiple surfaces.  The landscape architecture is a little bit unusual with a large round mulched plaza for the two baby/toddler swings, a sunken playground, and a raised structure with picnic tables and trellises.  Unfortunately for parents of toddlers, this park gets very crowded with rambunctious elementary school kids during the late afternoon.  It can be a challenge to share the play structure with these older kids who often play fast-paced games of tag. This park is a reasonable place to explore, but can be a bit dangerous without very close supervision.
  • Ground cover: mulch, sidewalk, blacktop
  • Play structure: metal and plastic. Rated for 5-12 most likely, not 2-5
  • Other features: Interesting topography. Adjacent to Oakhurst Elementary school
  • Setting: Some shade, some sun
  • Ideal age range: 5-12 most likely, but can go younger with supervision.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Atlanta museums: month one

Through a combination of family visits and afternoons with the manlet, I've had a chance to visit six of Atlanta's museums so far this past month.  We have become members of the Georgia Aquarium and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and have already visited both institutions more than once.  Since the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta History Center both honor AAM memberships and let kids under 2 in for free, we will probably not purchase additional memberships for those, and since both Fernbank and the High are remarkably kid-friendly places, we probably won't return frequently to Imagine It! the Atlanta Children's Museum.  I will likely return to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, mostly to view the changing exhibits derived from the Morehouse College MLK archive. In the remainder of this post, I offer quick reviews of the Georgia Aquarium,Fernbank and the High and a ,more in-depth review of the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Leo and the author at the High Museum of Art. #MiCasaYourCasa

The Georgia Aquarium straddles a line between carnival-like tourist attraction and bastion of marine science.  When it comes to aquaria (and zoos) I tend to be a bit of a purist.  Animals are beautiful and fascinating.  They do not require embellishment. The Georgia Aquarium has an astonishing array of marine life exhibits. Some of its most exciting denizens include beluga whales, sea otters, and a large coral reef.  However, the aquarium seems to feel the need to up the ante with Disney Princess giveaways in the lobby and advertisements everywhere for "exclusive" events and tours sponsored by a dizzying array of corporations.  I find myself longing for a quiet space for contemplation.  To be fair, we've only visited so far on weekends, so the place has been packed.  And my one-year-old son has no problem gluing his eyes to the fish, pointing and grinning and vocalizing, whether from shoulder-top or backpack or baby k'tan.  So I'll give the place a break.

Leo loves Fernbank as well.  The natural history museum has a classic array of dioramas depicting Georgia's deep history, an enormous light-filled lobby containing a dramatic dinosaur display complete with pteranodons ready to take flight, a changing exhibit gallery, and an IMAX theater.  For Leo, the highlight is the NatureQuest gallery, a huge space for exploration of scientific themes and methods.  I anticipate many happy hours with Leo climbing up the tree house, rebuilding ancient walls, and discovering geological wonders in rocky enclaves.  The fun has just begun.

The High Museum of Art also offers a remarkably fun atmosphere for small children.  The courtyard lawn of the institution is dominated by a whimsical art installation, Mi Casa Your Casa featuring bright red metal "house frames" most of which have hammocks strung invitingly across from corner to corner.  Leo and I spent a good hour walking around from similar structure to similar structure and swinging on the hammock chairs.  The museum also boasts a fantastic family education center with a walk-through painting, foam sculpture building blocks, a magnetic wall populated by "found objects" and more traditional dress-up clothes and kid-scaled, touchable artwork.  However, the appeal of the High goes beyond its installations designed specifically for families.  The complex's architecture is bright, airy, and fun to explore, offering unique vistas and approaches from every angle.  It also features one of the best contemporary art galleries I've ever explored with meaningful  explanatory text and appropriate amounts of space to view artworks.  Leo and I felt welcomed by the guards in every gallery, and we found the staff to be friendly above and beyond the "call of duty."  We spoke at length with a woman who works for the museum's food service provider.  It was clear to me that she takes pride in her work and enjoys the collegial community at the museum.  I'm looking forward to many hours of exploration.

In contrast, I visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights with my father while Leo visited the aquarium with other members of the family. The Center boasts many excellent features and some significant drawbacks. One drawback that becomes clear upon entry into the institution, is that, although it embraces the term "center" for itself, it is really only an exhibition space.  When I think of a "center," I think of a space with a significant research collection, a place to learn and to visit again and again.  The Center has an air of completeness to it, a sense that its educational mission is a fait accompli with the only changing exhibition space being the dedicated gallery for items from the Morehouse MLK archive: personal papers and some disturbingly fetishized personal effects. The Center's gift shop is also disappointingly low on intellectual content.  I expected deep dives into the history of civil and human rights and instead was presented with tee-shirts, mugs, and generic pamphlets and figurines.

The Center's strength lies in the first part of its Civil Rights gallery and in aspects of its Human Rights gallery. The Civil Rights gallery opens extremely powerfully, making excellent use of audio and visual artifacts and exhibit design to convey emotional intensity. Oral history excerpts are also used to great effect and the exhibit text is written in an engaging and accessible manner without being "dumbed down." Although few physical artifacts are employed, the exhibits use constructed spaces and environments to convey authentic experiences.  One particularly moving installation recreated the feeling of being heckled and abused at a lunch-counter sit-in.  Another recreated the triumphant feeling of being part of the March on Washington and listening to Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.  The emotional and intellectual tenor of the exhibit remains high up until Martin Luther King's death at which point it begins to rush headlong toward denouement.  The flow of the exhibit, which was masterfully paced previously halts abruptly, and details disappear from the exhibition's offerings.  Very little is said about Black Power and the many riots sparked across the country by MLK's death. A nod s made to "legacy" in the Requiem gallery of the exhibit, but, although the interactive tables there have a lot of potential, they include little substantive content as of yet. There is so much room here to include oral histories and diverse legacies of the movement!

I wonder whether the strange turn in the exhibition came from a sense that visitors will have likely run out of steam at the moment of MLK's death or whether there were budgetary problems or issues of narrative consensus?

Given the strange feeling I had at the end of the civil rights exhibit, I was thankful for the comfortable resting place offered on the second floor balcony of the building.  I was able to prepare myself emotionally for the Human Rights exhibit.  The opening of this exhibit which used mirrors to enable visitors to "interact" with narrators with a diverse array of personal experiences with human rights abuses, was the strongest part of the gallery. Further in, there were some unique offerings, including an installation devoted to China's "Great Firewall" which I appreciated.  There were also some digital installations which could use to have the kinks worked out of them and some overly didactic video areas.

Overall, I think that the Center for Civil and Human Rights has a great deal of potential, but it needs to let itself become a deeper archive for the legacy of these evolving movements both in the United States and around the World.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum

Last Thursday, at the tail end of a family vacation that took me to New Jersey, I visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum for the first time since its opening last spring.

I visited alone, without my former colleagues, friends, or family, although I did stop first at the new offices of the Museum staff in the former One World Financial Center, now 200 Liberty Street. I had been careful not to read too many reviews before my visit. Adam Gopnik's contextual piece in the New Yorker was an exception. 

My immediate emotional response was one of relief. I found myself relieved that the museum has been built, that a place with such heavy potential energy has been realized. No longer is there a tremendous build-up of pressure and possibility. There is a museum. It is full of things, and sounds, and images, and people. The people are participant observers. They have come to learn and they appear respectful, introspective, intrepid. I observed numerous positive encounters between visitors and education staff. The space to cover is vast, dense in places. Where there is sufficient space for reflection, the impact is at its greatest. Where there is too much space, the pacing feels off, uncertain. The entry ramp that leads from the lobby level to bedrock unfolds with an odd pace, almost a punctuated equilibrium.  It is not unlike memory, but not quite like it either. The overlooks (areas where the wall dips to the tower volumes and vistas below), with the exception of the glass wall over Foundation Hall, are too high for clear viewing by a person of my proportions (short), let alone a person in a wheel chair.

Spencer Finch's art installation, photo by Adina Langer
However, the space from the survivors’ staircase through the memorial exhibition unfolds beautifully. Spencer Finch's art installation on the east wall, surrounding the famous Virgil quote “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” is a slow reveal of emotional intensity. The piece is the only artwork commissioned for the new museum. At first I did not understand what I was looking at – blue tiles? Post-it notes? And then I read the description of the piece, “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky That September Morning.” 2983 water-color paper squares. Each a different, unique shade of blue. The impact was complete, like a flood of water over a wall. The paper an echo of the fallen paper on 9/11 and the missing posters that appeared everywhere afterward. The color, subtly variegated. One for each human life extinguished. The act of repetition, an impossible task of remembering an impression – perception different for every individual. I didn’t know what I was  viewing at first, but now I am glad for having viewed it.  I cannot think of a better cladding for a wall separating the museum from the repository of human remains.

The memorial exhibition, the part of the museum for which I was responsible for four of the 6 years I worked at the Memorial, was like slipping inside a model I knew like the back of my hand. The faces are bathed in a warm glow, and we were successful in obtaining so many images. I saw hardly any oak leaves, the symbol used when a photo could not be obtained, and most of the images were clear, colored, and lovely. It was not easy to view the names on the top rows, but they could be read easily in the interactive tables which worked beautifully, with only a few issues with the speed of loading content. The audio quality was clear and warm in tone, not tinny or harsh, even for the remembrances which originated with “Call toRemember.” My only complaint, something I had anticipated, is that the artifact cases felt unnecessarily small and cramped given the space that could have been used. This was especially true of the bonnet cases.

In Memoriam was full of reverent visitors but not overcrowded. The inner chamber was peaceful and contemplative with only a small but appropriate sense of the need to tread gingerly on the bedrock below the glass floor. Overall, the exhibit felt cozy, not repressive or funereal or overwrought. I am proud of the work we did on this exhibit. Speaking with a friend about my work on the exhibit and her experiences viewing it, I told her that I had felt like Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead. She said that the exhibit felt like a new commemorative paradigm.  How nice it would be if we could all have a place to go to remember our relatives like that. Perhaps we should extend this service to commemorate loved ones everywhere, regardless of the circumstances under which they died…

Porter Gaud School banner, photo by Adina Langer
Leaving the memorial exhibition, I enjoyed viewing the quilts and banners in the tribute art hallway.  I also loved the South Tower archeological gallery.  The site’s sense of place was underscored through the design of that exhibit, and I hope to return to give more attention to the archeological aspects of the site in the future.  During this visit, I opted to give only cursory attention to this exhibit in favor of advancing to the historical exhibition.

South Tower archeological exhibition, photo by Adina Langer
Compared to In Memoriam, the historical exhibition was overwhelming, with the exception of occasional moments that mimicked the feeling of safety and clarity in the memorial exhibition, namely the audio/video alcoves, especially those telling the stories of people inside the towers. The architecture of the jumpers’ alcove (space dedicated to the story of those who fell from the towers) was uncomfortably isolating and voyeuristic in the way it forced you to stand alone and look up. Perhaps this was intentional and the feeling produced was appropriate.

Maybe there were just too many people in attendance at the historical exhibit, but it was difficult to find a clear path amid the chaos, especially in Part I. The outer walls were mobbed, and it was tough to focus on any one of the many images and tiny artifact spaces along the walls.  I had no need to view the timeline myself, but visitors were clearly interested in its contents. (I did like the way the times appeared along the wall as you walked by them though). I longed for escape and was happy only when a space opened up along a wall for me to view an artifact of significance. It was difficult to find these stories though, on walls crowded with photographs and a very detailed timeline. That’s another reason why I appreciated the intimacy of the alcoves. On the main path, I felt both claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time. I was too exhausted to appreciate the story of Al Qaeda in Part II, although I really liked the gallery on the significance of the WTC. I appreciated the openness and choice offered in Part III, The World After 9/11.

Perhaps this was all content-appropriate. 9/11 was chaotic and myopic, painful and confusing. Eventually we understood what was happening and what had happened, but not fully as the events were unfolding. In Part III we are free to focus on the myriad tasks of recovery and to ask questions about the meaning and consequences of these events. I appreciate how these questions were posed in the galleries.

One moment worth mentioning that I appreciated at the end of Part I was the use of the audio artifact of the FDNY “Man Down” beepers. It was eerie and set the space apart from the present time.

I did not like how the tribute art was crammed together at the end of the exhibit. In trying to get so much in, the stories were muddied or lost. I think I would have preferred one or two pieces on display on a rotating basis.

World Trade Center tridents, photo by Adina Langer
One last impression: The interactive digital overlay for the Last Column worked beautifully and was very attractive and accessible for the visiting youth.  I observed a young girl combing through symbols and exploring deeply.

Tridents marked "save" by recovery workers, photo by Adina Langer
On my way out of the museum, I paused to look again at the towering tridents saved from the rubble of the World Trade Center. These steel structures stand as a microcosm of the 9/11 Memorial Museum experience, emblems of wreckage and the will to memorialize, marked by the process necessary to realize this dream of commemoration.

Circling back to my first impressions, the security structure at the beginning of the museum entry felt like an installation in and of itself, although I would have appreciated some signage highlighting this further—something about how airport security changed drastically after 9/11.  Perhaps it was there, but I didn’t notice it.

Looking up at the new One World Trade Center, disappearing into the clouds. Photo by Adina Langer
So much of this museum is about signs and symbols. Things are not only what they appear to be or function as on the surface. They are imbued with meaning, often beyond the control of those who created or installed them. Such will be the fate of the Memorial Museum, and such a fate should be embraced. Walking back to the PATH train after my visit, I paused to look upward at the new One World Trade Center, its peak disappearing into the clouds. Below it, the memorial plaza is both more than and not more than a gathering place in the shadow of this new structure. All the people of the world pass through this space, and every time they pass, new memories go with them. This is a place where memories are born and reborn. This is a museum where ideas live.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Georgia on my Mind

Yesterday marked the one-week anniversary of my arrival with my family to our new home in Georgia.  We purchased a beautiful renovated house in Decatur, a near-eastern suburb of Atlanta. Hopefully, this will mark the opening of a longer chapter in my professional life, after sojourns in New York City and Lansing, Michigan.

Five years ago, when we moved to Michigan, I knew that there was a built-in sunset to our stay. I had accompanied my husband who was enrolled in the accounting PhD program at Michigan State University.  With the achievement of his doctorate, we felt the proverbial boot on our backsides.  Time to move on. It turns out that five years is just about the perfect amount of time to feel like you've become a part of a community. We had our friends, our synagogue, our favorite restaurants and shopping routine.

Now we are in unfamiliar territory. Every day is a new exploration of a place both very old and very new. Atlanta's trees tower over the streets, shading modest homes built when Jim Crow reigned supreme and Jews were viewed as foreigners. Those same trees hold in their arms ropes for children's swings; Indian-American children of CDC employees, African-American children of nurses and software designers, southern children of midwestern and northern expats, play together in the busy childcare facilities at the Greater Atlanta YMCA branches throughout town. There is a deep undercurrent of memory and a surface veneer of present-mindedness. Hipster thirty-somethings open artisan coffee shops where twenty-somethings jack into their favorite social networks. Here and not here.

There is a sense of pageantry. B*ATL concluded just as we arrived in town. The organization sponsored a week of celebrations, readings, reenacting and other family-friendly activities to commemorate a devastating time of sectarian tensions in the nation's past. There is a feeling that amnesia lurks around every corner. If we can't make history fun, no one would want to learn about it.

I don't know whether this is true. And I have much exploration ahead of me. I am looking forward to meeting colleagues in Georgia State's Heritage Preservation Program, to dipping my fingers and toes into the shadowed waters of the Atlanta-area history scene.

Posing with the Colonel Sanders statue at the Sanders Cafe in Corbin, KY
I will report what I find along the way. In the meantime, I can reflect on a strange and wonderful journey southward. Watching my son enjoy french fries at the original Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe in Corbin, Kentucky, for example.  The Sanders Cafe is a museum and also a working, modern KFC restaurant. A most unusual combination. Of course, the museum's displays are hagiographical, but it does come across quite clearly that Sanders' primary innovation in the 1940s was that he could cook fried chicken fast. And what's more American than that?