Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Museum exhibitions by petition: silly... and dangerous

According to the JTA, a petition signed by 100 "scholars and leaders" has been delivered to the United States Holocaust Museum calling for mention of the Bergson group in the permanent exhibition.

[The USHMM's website mentions them but the permanent exhibition apparently does not.]

While I think the permanent exhibition should absolutely include mention of them, I refused to sign the petition when it reached me a few weeks ago.

Good museums do not decide on the basis of petitions, otherwise known as public pressure, what should and should not be included in their exhibits.

Furthermore the petition is not just from scholars who might have studied the topic. According to the JTA it was signed by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, leaders of rabbinical seminaries from the three main Jewish religious denominations, two former Israeli Cabinet members, two members of Congress and prominent Holocaust survivors.

While I respect these people [my guess is some of them are my good friends] this is not how exhibits should be created.

As historian Michael Marrus wrote when he declined to sign:
The staff at the USHMM has earned wide respect because of their professionalism and the care that they take with respect to their mandate. I may not agree with their every decision -- although I am not aware of any at the moment with which I disagree -- but I certainly want to see them accorded the professional space within which to operate. [The] petition seems to me to move rather in the direction of politicization of a respected institution.

Leave aside the merits: if this kind of mobilization were to become an accepted means to changing exhibits we would have a museology defined through public pressure. I would not like to see this happen and I don't think that this is in the interest of the educational and commemorative work to which we are both committed.
Well said. This is ludicrous.

Now let's wait as the predictable cast of characters who seek every opportunity to criticize the USHMM, come out of the woodwork in protest.

1 comment:

Nell said...

I have to agree that this process isn't the way one would like to see museums operate.

Do you have any insight into what considerations led to the Bergson group's omission from the permanent exhibition?