Today’s What We’re Reading post comes to you from Angela Foss, Program Administrator for the Museum Studies program and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences here at Tufts.
An NPR article titled “African-American Museum Cafe Serves Up Black History With Every Forkful” details how the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC includes a cafe that serves up traditional African-American cuisines from four regions of the US: the North States, Western Range, Agriculture South and Creole Coast. “The idea is to expand people’s understanding of just how much African-Americans have contributed to our nation’s culinary heritage, says Joanne Hyppolite, curator for the cultural expressions exhibits that feature foodways, culture and cuisine.” But the cafe doesn’t just offer soul food. It offers items that visitors may never have heard of or tasted before in an effort to further educate visitors on African-American life and cuisine. In this way, the museum has created an immersive experience to expand the visit and include a new form of sensory education: taste.
What do you think of this initiative, and how do you think it could be translated to other museums? Should it be utilized all the time, or just for special exhibitions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
In the wake of this year’s presidential election, the 2016 New England Museum Association Conference was “the best cure for a political hangover,” as NEMA Executive Director Dan Yaeger put it. This year’s theme, “Plug In: Museums and Social Action,” seemed even more pertinent than we had perhaps realized, as Wednesday morning saw many conference-goers overwhelmed with emotion about our country’s political state. I could have cut through the thick tension in the air with the butter knife on my table at lunch that day. Yet poignant keynote performances by Bated Breath Theatre Company and Annawon Weeden that focused on social justice and knowing our country’s full history seemed to inspire us to come together both as a profession and as a community. Instead of fixating on our political differences, we were challenged to channel that intensity and put our thinking caps on to have constructive conversations over the next three days. Sessions like “Encouraging Civic Engagement,” “Engaging Visitors in Conversation Forums About Societal Issues,” and “Museums at the Intersections: Strategies for Community and Justice Issues” were just a few of the many that asked the critical question of what our social responsibility is to our communities and how we as museums can do more for them than just provide a fun day out on a Saturday. While the conference started out on a shaky and uncertain note, that note soon blossomed into a chorus of voices talking and communicating about potential answers to these questions and how they could play out in our museums. Now, it’s time to put these ideas into motion. Our country is at a crossroads and more than ever our museums need to ask themselves those same critical questions and determine whether or not they will act on these conversations or stay silent.
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