Testing the Waters of Controversy

For much of the twentieth century museums and controversial topics were considered like oil and water, two things that should not mix. This, however, has changed. In today’s museums, tough topics are beginning to be discussed, as museums have realized that to serve the community, they as institutions can be a place of dialog, and even healing, for communities that have been through traumatic events.

The Detroit Historical Society is beginning to embark on becoming a place of dialog for the city, to help heal the old wounds in the community. In 1967, civil strife broke out, causing “riots” in the city. The aftermath of these “riots” is still felt in Detroit, almost forty years later, and the DHS has decided to do something about it.

I talked with Tobi Voigt, Chief Curatorial Officer of the DHS, and she described the exhibition the museum will put on in 2016 regarding the events of 1967. In the exhibit the museum intends on highlighting the stories of those who lived through the “riots”, and showing the relevant timeline of events. These will be the main focus of the exhibit, not objects or the museums collection, but the stories and facts. The exhibit will also have a room at the end of it for visitors to reflect about what they just learned, to hopefully facilitate healing within the community. This forward-thinking exhibit style, along with even the exhibit itself, was championed by Tobi and a few of her colleagues. This exhibit will be the museums “first test” in trying to tackle controversial topics, and hopefully one that is successful so that the museum may become a forum for the community of Detroit.

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One Response to Testing the Waters of Controversy

  1. emilykp47 says:

    Museums definitely have a responsibility to foster dialogue and help people heal, as we’ve discussed in class. It sounds like the Detroit Historical Society has a good plan for its exhibit; I really like the idea of the having a room for visitors to reflect and “debrief”. I look forward to see how the exhibit turns out, and what the reaction from the community will be.

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