We’ve all changed our lives — and had our lives changed — over the last several months. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reset our habits and our routines. This difficult season has given us an opportunity to do things differently and to think differently.
Now, America is beginning to move toward reopening. And as we try to return to normalcy — or to establish a new normal — I’d like to humbly offer a suggestion: Let’s start visiting museums again.
Did you know that there are more than 60 museums in our nation’s capital? Now, several of those museums have reopened, like the National Gallery of Art, the International Spy Museum and Mount Vernon, among others. Museums help us to better understand our human experience and our nation’s history by telling stories that are full of both tragedy and triumph.
I believe museums have never been more vital to society than they are right now. Here’s why: Museums allow us to learn from the past.
When you step into a museum, whether it be in Washington, D.C., or somewhere else, you accept an invitation to challenge yourself with new perspectives. Museums allow us to see our world, our country and ourselves differently. Sometimes museums make us uncomfortable because they confront us with truths that can be difficult to acknowledge. But that’s one reason I love museums: They don’t tell us what to think; they give us things to think about.
Museums allow us to interpret the present.
Museums help us to understand how we got here — to the present. Like a GPS or a map, museums seem to say to us, “You are here.” The artifacts and exhibits in museums introduce us to the ideas and ideologies that have led us into this very moment in time. When you visit a museum, you are in the space between the past and the future.
Museums allow us to shape the future.
Museums allow us to engage with items and ideas that are older and bigger than ourselves. By giving us the opportunity to learn from the past and interpret the present, they can aid us in shaping the future. When you visit a museum, I encourage you to experience the exhibits as if you were a part of them. That’s what museum curators aim to do. After all, to bring you into a world so that when you leave, you take the lessons of that world with you.
At the Museum of the Bible, our Gutenberg Gates are open to visitors. We invite people of all backgrounds and ages to engage with the story of the Bible. For example, you can learn how Scripture informed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work, and spurred criminal justice reform. You can view artifacts from the Vatican and historic texts that transformed the world. You can study the life of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman who saved hundreds of lives during the Holocaust, whose personal letters are now on display. These are just a few of the many exhibits we offer.
Museums are not merely stuffy buildings full of old objects. They are alive with stories. They are places to reflect, mourn, laugh, play and learn. They can serve as catalysts for personal, national and global change.
Let’s start visiting museums again.
Harry Hargrave is CEO of Museum of the Bible. This article was first published in The Washington Times on August 3, 2020.