The Truth, with Dignity and Grace

​How do we face the harsh realities that the historical figures we grew up studying and admiring were probably not the best personifications of the idea that all men are created equal? We tell the truth, with dignity and grace. 

Interpretation, when handled correctly, can be one of the most effective tools at our disposal as museums professionals, particularly for those of us with an interest in public history. One of the most valuable lessons that I learned today, and probably one of the most important of the seminar, is that we shouldn’t shy away from telling the truth, no matter how difficult it is. The trick lies in knowing your audience and how to approach them, and of course, applying a measure of dignity and grace in that approach, as the interpreters at Mount Vernon pride themselves in doing. 

My past experience and my future goals involve implementing interpretative plans in environments not unlike Mount Vernon. I hope to use the lessons that I learned today as a model of being empathetic, but truthful and as accurate as possible. We can’t know what out visitors know or where their backgrounds lie until we start a conversation with them, and we can’t be expected to have the ability to converse if our visitors are uncomfortable in the environments that we provide. Even if the stories that we craft are uncomfortable, we can provide the visitor with a safe and welcoming space to exchange ideas, hopefully ideas that will create a positive connection. 

Museums are for Everyone

Visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the National Gallery of Art today really opened my eyes to the challenges and absolute necessity of accessibility in exhibit and general building design. All of our experiences this week would have been vastly different if I had any accessibility issues in a museum that didn’t take its visitor experiences into account. Thankfully, all of the institutions we’ve visited so far have done exactly that. 

Picasso at NGA

I can’t imagine someone coming to these amazing institutions and being denied the complete, meaningful experience that I’ve been able to enjoy when I arrive in Washington each day. The Museum in the Morning program at the Smithsonian Institute stands out to me as an organization with programming that goes the extra mile to be a caring member of the community. Going beyond allowing families early access to the museums, they actively seek out families with that need. 

Matisse at NGA


I think my biggest take away from today will be that accessibility goes beyond ADA requirements. It means trying your best to provide a quality experience for everyone who walks through the door. Accessibility should be on equal footing with other needs of the budget if we mean to serve our communities and be an active member of them. 

Warhol at NGA

Our visit to the National Gallery of Art, while not specifically about accessibility, just reinforced the need for accessible collections. If these museums, particularly our national museums, are truly for us, then we should all get to experience Picasso, Matisse, and Warhol.