Museum Statements Archive

Museum Statements: Taking Leadership on Significant Public Issues

Indigenous Rights and Justice
“Pacific Northwest Tribe enlists unusual allies in fight to save the Salish Sea from fossil fuel threats: museums” (Red Lake Nation News)
“The Right Side of History: How can museums support Native-led climate justice initiatives?” (Museum Magazine, July 2018)
“Archaeologists and Museums Respond to Destruction of Standing Rock Sioux Sacred Sites” (Open letter organized by The Natural History Museum, September 2016)

Act on the Institute of National Remembrance
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (January 29, 2018)

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (August 21, 2017)
National Museum of African American History and Culture (August 18, 2017)

Statement on the Tragedy in Charlottesville, VA (NMAAHC)

We at the National Museum of African American History and Culture are saddened by the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our hearts are with the families of the victims—the three who lost their lives, the 35 injured and the millions across the country who are traumatized by this dark chapter in our nation’s history. The violent displays of racism and anti-Semitism are reprehensible. These heinous acts are an assault on our nation’s values and threaten to move our country backward to a time when many had little regard for the principles of fairness, liberty, and equality.

Throughout America’s history, we have seen racism and anti-Semitism at work. The terror that shook Charlottesville, VA over the past weekend is the most recent example in a long legacy of violence intended to intimidate and marginalize African Americans and Jews.  It is crucial at this time to understand the history of white supremacy as a political ideology, and the role of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups in using violence to promote that ideology.

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan counted between three and six million members.  It advocated “One Hundred Percent Americanism” by attacking Jews, Catholics, African Americans and recent immigrants. Acts of violence and intimidation have been their staple strategies. The Klan has been associated with some of the most infamous murders of the 1950s and 60s, including those of Henrietta and Harry Moore, Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, and the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in which four black girls were killed. In the 21st century, Neo-Nazis and other anti-government groups have joined with the Klan in promoting white racial superiority and terrorizing blacks and other minority groups.

Recognizing the history of violence in support of white supremacy is only part of fully understanding the events of recent days.  The white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville announced that they were there to protect a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  We should consider the political context in which these Confederate statues and monuments have been erected.

According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 1500 symbols of the Confederacy can be seen in public spaces in 31 states and the District of Columbia.  These include more than 700 monuments and statues on public property (often courthouse lawns) and at least 109 public schools named for prominent Confederates.

Since 1894, there has been a concerted campaign to commemorate the Confederacy through memorialization and education.  Organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894 to “perpetuate the memory of our Confederate heroes and the glorious cause for which they fought,” promoted Confederate monuments, museums, and educational activities that emphasized states’ rights rather than slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

It is not surprising then to find that the dedication of Confederate monuments spiked in two distinct time periods: the first two decades of the 20th century and the 1950s and 1960s.  The first encompassed the years when states were passing Jim Crow laws disenfranchising African Americans and the second corresponds to the modern civil rights movement.  These monuments are symbols that tell us less about the actual Civil War but more about the uncivil peace that followed.

It is often easier to take our attention away from the harsh realities of history.  At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we are committed to bringing history—with all of its pain and its promise—front and center. Only when we illuminate the dark corners and tell the unvarnished truth can we learn history’s lessons and bridge the gaps that divide us.

President Trump
Museum of Modern Art (February 11, 2017)

Counter-Inauguration (US) J20
Whitney Museum of American Art (January 20, 2017)

US Refugee/Immigration Policy
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): Response 1 / Response 2
The Davis Museum
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum / Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)

USHMM Museum Statement on Refugees, January 31, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is acutely aware of the consequences to the millions of Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, as noted in our November 2015 statement on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Museum continues to have grave concern about the global refugee crisis and our response to it. During the 1930s and 1940s, the United States, along with the rest of the world, generally refused to admit Jewish refugees from Nazism due to antisemitic and xenophobic attitudes, harsh economic conditions, and national security fears.

In our view, there are many legitimate refugees fleeing the Assad regime’s sustained campaign of crimes against humanity and the genocidal acts perpetrated by ISIS against the Yazidis, Christians, and other religious minorities. American policy should fully address national security concerns while protecting legitimate refugees whatever their national or religious identity.

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit

Québec Mosque Shooting
Montreal Holocaust Museum

Statement on the Terrorist Attack at the Sainte-Foy Mosque, January 20, 2017

Montreal, Monday, January 20th – We, at the Montreal Holocaust Museum, wish to express our solidarity with the Muslim communities of Quebec on this tragic day.

An attack against people gathered in peaceful prayer is an islamophobic assault that concerns all of us. We express our deepest sympathy to the families of the victims, people of the Muslim faith and all Quebecers. The murder of innocent people because of their faith is an assault on values which we hold dear, including freedom of religion and religious expression, the equal rights and protection of minorities, and particularly the sanctity of human life.

The attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre of Québec is a line in the sand. This attack has been perpetrated in a context in which it has become legitimate to spread bigotry and hate, a world which targets minorities and normalises an « us and them » mentality.

Quebecers, Canadians, world citizens can no longer sit inactive.  Our goal must be the promotion of respect for, and appreciation of diversity, and an understanding of the fundamental humanity that unites all of us.

J20 General Strike

Queens Museum

Sign of the Times: Sign Making in Solidarity, January 18, 2017

Calling all artists, activists, and concerned people of New York City!

In solidarity with the J20 General Strike, Queens Museum will close for the day to host an afternoon for the production of signs, posters, banners, and buttons in preparation for upcoming marches and actions. Activities will include silkscreen printing with Shoestring Press and risograph printing with instructor Paul John and EFA Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, along with opportunities to work in other media.

We invite our community to join us in producing graphic materials that address the causes in which they are most deeply invested and aid in the further distribution of these signs across the 5 boroughs and beyond.

Materials will be available to the public free of charge, as will posters produced by Interference Archive and Mobile Print Power.

Orlando Shooting
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Contemporary Jewish Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Statement, June 13, 1016
Museum Outraged at Orlando Shooting

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is outraged at the attack on the Pulse Club in Orlando, Florida, which specifically targeted the LGBT community. The Museum expresses its condolences to the many families and friends who lost loved ones in this depraved act.

The perpetrator had reportedly expressed allegiance to ISIS reminding us of the continuing dangers extremist ideologies pose. Regardless of whether this was a hate crime or an act of terrorism, the intent was to murder members of the LGBT community. During the Nazi era, the Germans dramatically intensified their persecution of homosexuals who were deemed unfit for the “Aryan community.” Some 50,000 were sent to prison and between 5,000 and 15,000 were incarcerated in concentration camps where many perished.

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit

Jedwabne Pogrom
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

USHMM Statement, July 20, 2016
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Deeply Concerned over Polish Education Minister’s Remarks on Jedwabne Pogrom

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is concerned over recent public statements by the Polish Education Minister, Anna Zalewska, questioning that Poles participated in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbors during a Holocaust-era pogrom in Jedwabne.

“It is disturbing that the senior government official responsible for education in Poland would openly question long-settled history about crimes targeting Jews on Polish soil,” said Tad Stahnke, Director of the Museum’s Initiative on Holocaust Denial and Antisemitism. “Unfortunately, these latest comments are not the only action by the Polish government that raises questions about its commitment to a free and open dialogue addressing Poland’s history during the Holocaust.”

According to press reports, Minister Zalewska told a television interviewer that the 1941 massacre of Jews at Jedwabne, “is a historical fact that has led to many misunderstandings and very biased opinions.” After the journalist asserted that, “Poles burned Jews in a barn,” Ms. Zalewska replied, “That’s your opinion repeated after Mr. Gross.”

The reference is to Polish-American scholar and Princeton Professor Jan Tomasz Gross, who has written extensively on Polish resistance to the Nazis and published a thoroughly researched book on the Jebwabne massacre which details the involvement of Poles in the killings.

Earlier this year, the government announced that it was proposing legislation to make it a criminal offense to publicly suggest that Poles shared responsibility for Nazi crimes in Poland.  In April, a Polish prosecutor questioned Professor Gross about a September 2015 editorial – which included statements about Polish violence against Jews in World War II – to investigate if he committed the crime of publicly insulting the nation.

“Historians of Poland, from both inside and outside the country, have conducted widely respected research on all aspects of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland,” continued Stahnke. “The government should encourage this research and the healthy discussions it generates rather than proscribe limits on it.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda, during a recent commemoration of the postwar pogrom at Kielce, stated that antisemitism has no place in contemporary Poland. We hope the president will exert his leadership in this regard.

The Holocaust in Poland

From 1939-1945, Poland was brutally occupied by Nazi Germany. (The Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland between 1939-1941.)  Deemed inferior in Nazi racial ideology, almost two million non-Jewish Polish civilians were killed by the Germans and millions more were imprisoned and subjected to forced labor.

By the end of the war approximately three million Jews – 90% of Poland’s Jewish population – had been murdered in the Holocaust.  Many Poles risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors. Some 6,620 individuals are recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, more than from any other country. However, many Poles were complicit in Nazi crimes against Jews.  In July 1941, Polish residents of Jedwabne, a small town located in then German-occupied Poland, participated in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbors.  In 1946 in Kielce, a mob of Polish soldiers, police officers, and civilians murdered at least 42 Jews in one of the worst outbursts of anti-Jewish violence in postwar Poland.

About the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit

Syrian Refugees
Canadian Museums Association 
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Virginia Holocaust Museum
McCord Museum
Radio Canada International
Royal Ontario Museum
Salaam Cultural Museum

CMA Statement, November 18, 2015
Let’s Welcome the Refugees with Open Arms

Canada is moving fast to welcome 25,000 refugees, mostly from Syria, in the next few weeks. This is an ambitious target for Canada, more so after the tragic events of last week in Paris and Beirut. The Canadian Museums Association (CMA) welcomes this humanitarian action and we call upon all members to embrace these people with open arms.

They will be arriving in cities and town all across the country. Each province has its own quota, for example, Saskatchewan’s is 2,500, Ontario and Quebec are expecting 8,000 each, and Prince Edward Island’s is 100 individuals. They will be arriving in the midst of our cold winter, in a very different culture, and many will not be able to speak either French or English. The challenges these souls face are incredible, but as you know hundreds of thousands have risked their lives with the hope for a better future.

Social service agencies are springing into action all across Canada. Museums can and should join in these efforts to welcome these refugees. There are many reports from Europe that new refugees feel isolated in the shelters that are provided and isolated from contact with the people of their new homeland. While they may have shelter, meals and heat, there are long hours of uncertainty, worry and boredom. There are missed opportunities to adjust to their new homeland, to explore it and to meet other people.

We feel museums have a role to play, to help welcome them to their new homeland, help them learn more about our history and culture, but also as community centres for learning and adjustment. Language may be a barrier initially, but a warm smile does not need translation and speaks volumes.

Each one of us should consider what role we can play. Small steps of kindness will help make their adjustment to the new homeland much more inviting. Let us all consider what role we can play.

John G. McAvity
Executive Director
Canadian Museums Association 

Canadian Truth and Reconciliation (TRC)
Canadian Museums Association

CMA Statement, June 8, 2015
Museums Key Partners in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Recommendations

OTTAWA, Ontario, June 8, 2015 — The Canadian Museums Association (CMA) supports the conclusions published last week in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report. The CMA remains determined to pursue its partnership with First Nation, Inuit and Métis people to preserve and present Aboriginal history in cultural institutions.

The Commission’s Final Report includes 94 recommendations, many of which reinforce the results published in “Turning the Page: Forging New Partnerships Between Museums and First Peoples”, a 1994 report by the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples jointly sponsored by the Assembly of First Nations and the CMA.

We welcome the Commission’s call for a national review of museum policies and best practices in order to determine the degree of compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and its recommendation to emphasize the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 by establishing a national funding program for commemoration projects on the theme of reconciliation.

Black Lives Matter
Museum 2.0
American Association for State and Local History
The Incluseum
Museum Questions: Reflections on Museums, Programs, and Visitors
New England Museum Association
Art Museum Teaching
Smithsonian Magazine

Museum 2.0, December 15, 2014
Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events

When basketball players are offering more cogent commentary on racial issues than cultural institutions, you know we have a cultural relevance problem. Can we be as brave and direct as these young women?

Gretchen Jennings convened a group of bloggers and colleagues online to develop a statement about museums’ responsibilities and opportunities in response to the events in Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island.

Here is our statement. It is not enough on its own. We are not enough on our own. I hope you will join us with your own words and actions.

The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?

Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge. University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the #FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players to rock stars, are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.

Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.

We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines. Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.” We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.

There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role–as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit–in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?

We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Is there equity and diversity in your policy and practice regarding staff, volunteers, and Board members? Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do these issues relate to the mission and audience of your museum? Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?

We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.

Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups that are hoping to organize workshops or public conversations. Museums may want to use this moment not only to “respond” but also to “invest” in conversations and partnerships that call out inequity and racism and commit to positive change.

We invite you to join us in amplifying this statement. As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case. We are seeing in a variety of media – blogs, public statements, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook—that colleagues of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are concerned and are seeking guidance and dialogue in understanding the role of museums regarding these troubling events. We hope that organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums; the Association of Science-Technology Centers; the Association of Children’s Museums; the American Association for State and Local History and others, will join us in acknowledging the connections between our institutions and the social justice issues highlighted by Ferguson and related events.

You can join us by…
Posting and sharing this statement on your organization’s website or social media
Contributing to and following the Twitter tag #museumsrespondtoFerguson which is growing daily
Checking out Art Museum Teaching which has a regularly updated resource, Teaching #Ferguson: Connecting with Resources
Sharing additional resources in the comments
Asking your professional organization to respond
Checking out the programs at The Missouri History Museum. It has held programs related to Ferguson since August and is planning more for 2015.
Looking at the website for International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. They are developing information on how to conduct community conversations on race.

Participating Bloggers and Colleagues (to be updated, add your comments below)

Gretchen Jennings, Museum Commons
Aletheia Wittman and Rose Paquet Kinsley, The Incluseum
Aleia Brown,
Steven Lubar, On Public Humanities
Mike Murawski, Art Museum Teaching
Linda Norris, The Uncataloged Museum
Paul Orselli ExhibiTricks: A Museum/Exhibit/Design Blog
Ed Rodley, Thinking About Museums
Adrianne Russell, Cabinet of Curiosities
Nina Simon, Museum 2.0
Rainey Tisdale, CityStories
Jeanne Vergeront, Museum Notes
Porchia Moore, @PorchiaMooreM