Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 6 of 10): Nothing beats the physical, three-dimensional, real life experience of a museum

(Two girls enjoying an exhibit at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, New York, circa 1935-1943. The Brooklyn Children's Museum was one of the many museums where WPA workers helped staff make exhibits, catalog artifacts, make physical improvements to the buildings, and more. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.)

When a friend of mine saw that I was doing several blog posts about a New Deal museum he emailed me, writing, "I have read that many people had their eyes opened after visiting the WW2 Jewish Holocaust Museum. They said that even though they knew about the tragedies at the camps, they were really able to internalize what happened after viewing first hand stories and sights at the museum."

My most memorable experience when I visited the Holocaust Museum was when I turned a corner in the building and saw thousands of shoes that were removed from Jewish children before they were killed at an extermination camp (I now see that it is a memorable experience for many other people too; see the exhibit description here). It's one thing to see a picture of the shoes of murdered children. It's quite another, more powerful thing to see them in person. I'm not even sure if the difference can be adequately described with words, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, in the museum, you are sharing the same physical space with the shoes, and therefore you are connected to the children in a much more personal way than before.

There is nothing quite like the physical experience of visiting a well-designed museum. With respect to a New Deal museum, visitors could see the poverty people endured during the Great Depression, the work programs that preserved the spirits & skills of the unemployed, sculptures & paintings by New Deal artists, tools of the Civilian Conservation Corps, WPA Theatre reenactments, and much more.

Maybe, if people saw the contributions of the New Deal to the nation--first hand, in a museum--they would internalize the "stories and sights" more, and think, "Y'know, when government helps the less fortunate...maybe it's not such a bad thing after all. Maybe it can benefit everyone."

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