Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Different Conversations with Different Audiences - AHO – Day 3

At the Association of Holocaust Organizations Conference, Detroit, MI

The two sessions today seemed to have little direct connection, but at a certain level they were completely connected.

Dr. Wulf Kansteiner, a SUNY Binghampton professor specializing in how the Holocaust is depicted particularly in the German media, started the day. He walked us through several examples, going back to the 1950s, of how German TV presented the Holocaust. Several features persisted for decades. Most significant was the lack of attention; over 30 or more years there were only a handful of programs engaging the Holocaust. Perpetrators were never named or depicted, even when the program was about the specific crimes of a specific perpetrator.  Even the most mature depictions focused on the personal and emotional traumas of all involved. This last characteristic created the sense that all of German was victim to Hitler, regardless of whether one was a Jewish inmate or member of the SS.

Two colleagues, Dallas Holocaust Museum CEO Alice Murray and St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center Director Jean Cavender, followed. Sarah Weiss, Director of the Cincinnati Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education , lead them through a series of questions about the future of Holocaust centers and museums. The critical discussion came when Ms. Weiss asked for a description of the factors critical to survival into the future besides money. The participants described ways their institutions were expanding programs, rotating exhibits, reaching out to new constituencies, and finding collaborations, among other strategies.

The conversation about the future reminded me Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust must learn to engage the multiple cultural. ethnic, and religious groups within the mosaic of communities comprising Los Angeles.

And this is where I saw the connection between the two seminars. They provide two examples of two different conversations. In Dr. Kansteiner’s seminar it became clear we needed to continue to examine how the Holocaust was presented. This examination couldn’t include only Germany; one of the themes of the conference included discussions of how American culture presents, depicts and refers to the Holocaust. The conversation should be extended to include media throughout the world.

This conversation goes on largely amongst ourselves. By ‘ourselves,’ I mean all of us professionally engaged in teaching about, studying, and memorializing the Holocaust.

Then there is the conversation to be had with LAMH’s visitors and,– because we must be a museum for ALL of Los Angeles – our potential visitors.

The first conversation goes on in the academy. It’s conducted in journals, anthologies, new scholarship, and conferences. It includes polysyllabic words such as ‘interlocutor’ and ‘contextualization.’ It has tremendous potential to influence how its participants understand their world.

The second conversation isn’t really a conversation in any traditional sense. It’s more of an action-and-reaction communication. And it goes like this. Museums such as LAMH act. We mount exhibits and hold programs and we publicize them. We send our message out into the world. The only way we know it’s been received and that it has any meaning for those we’re talking to is when they react with their feet. They show up at our exhibits, at our programs.

The first conversation, in the academy, will undoubtedly sustain itself. But when we talk about the future of institutions such as LAMH, I don’t want to settle for just sustaining itself. I want to find a way to break the conversation wide open.

No comments:

Post a Comment