If you ask the public to identify an entity that is attempting to address social issues in America, many individuals will likely reply that they feel lobbyists or protesters are the ones most actively involved in discussing these problems. Unfortunately, many people do not think about museums as institutions capable of implementing, or even discussing, social change. Given the great amount of trust the public places in museums, however, it becomes clear that these great cultural institutions can be leaders in aiding the public’s understanding of this nation’s many social problems.
When asked if museums could serve as a location for discussing social issues, Sarah Pharaon, the Senior Director of Methodology and Practice at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, replied that museums are the perfect place for doing so. While museums have the capability to discuss all issues, Sarah stated some topics, such as the debate surrounding gun rights, need to be handled tactfully.
A proven way of dealing with delicate issues is through allegory. Looking at how American society treated individuals with Tuberculosis is a classic example of the use of allegory in order to address a sensitive subject. By looking at the irrational actions taken against infected individuals by American society, museums can examine this historic example to help the public make connections to the similar ways people have reacted to more contemporary issues such as the 1990s HIV/AIDS panic. Given their roles as forums, museums are ideally suited to serve as the vanguard for addressing social issues.