The Value of Museums

I’ve been reminded of the value of museums while being here in the Netherlands. For just 60€ for adults and 35€ for adolescents (and free for ages 0-11), we have been able to secure Museumkaarts which allow us access to over 400 museums country-wide. These museums have been a centerpiece of our experiences.

Of course, museums allow us a glimpse of a time long ago. Rembrandt gives us a glimpse of medicine.
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Vermeer lets us into the mysteries of someone in a different socioeconomic status.

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Excavation sites beneath the Dom Tower show us what the city center of Utrecht might have looked like in 1245 A.D.

 

But, to me, museums’ real power is when they force us to confront the world AS IT IS, not how it used to be, and I’ve been privileged to experience those museums as well.

A week ago, I traveled south to Maastricht to meet Susan Leurs, an artist with an exhibit on people around the country who have been bullied. With her brilliantly-shot photographs, she shows a pureness of people, a stripped-down and vulnerable version. That vulnerability, though, shows real power. In these photos, we can see the pain and the victory of overcoming–for those who have. (You’ll hear a Share Chair Podcast interview with Susan in the coming weeks.)

While in Maastricht, I also ended up at a photography museum where the exhibit was given to a famous Dutch photographer, showing his wide range over a 50-year career. While he shot nature and portraits, he also focused on showing human tragedy: the grueling work conditions which give us our clothes as well as the horrors of 9/11 as he was the only professional Dutch photographer there on that fateful day. (He was scheduled for a photoshoot at one of the Twin Towers later that afternoon.) This particular exhibit showed him revisiting his now-famous photos ten years later, first shooting the horror in 2001 and then re-shooting in 2011.

Additionally, while in den Haag, I visited the Humanity House, a museum dedicated to the harrowing journeys of refugees fleeing their home countries to eventually land in the Netherlands. After going through a re-make of the journey, from safe home in Syria to chaos in Syria to the long and exhausting journey to the Netherlands to all of the required paper work, the museum forces the participant to really feel the experience–even if just for an hour. As a matter of fact, at the end of the museum, there is an experience to read a half dozen journeys of people now in the Netherlands: journeys from a war-torn country, journeys from extreme poverty, journeys from torture and sexual misconduct.

With these contemporary museums, I find myself questioning my work. How can my little podcast make an impact on these massive challenges facing our world? Does it really matter, what I’m doing?

And that’s when I turn to a young woman to pick me up:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” -Anne Frank

With Anne Frank’s presence alive and well throughout the Netherlands (I travel past a memorial statue of her here in Utrecht every other day), I’m reminded that all I can do is work on my corner of the world, to make positive change–one story at a time.

The Share Chair Podcast

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