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December 5, 2010 / helengraham

Elephants, Steam Trains and Obama

Shepard Fairey, now at the National Portrait Gallery

On Thursday was invited by the ARC of D.C. to come and meet a group of people who are currently on a jobs program to see if anyone would like to get involved in the project. Went armed with 40 or so images – mostly nicked from Google Images – which represented in various ways things that can be seen at the Smithsonian museums. So everything from lions, elephants and giraffes (National Museum of Natural History), to space shuttles, fighter planes and commercial airlines (Air and Space Museum), to mail vans (National Postal Museum), Obama’s ‘Hope’ poster (National Portrait Gallery), Michelle Obama’s dress, a steam train (National Museum of American History) and Jackie Robinson getting a home run (Anacostia Museum). The idea was that everyone in the group picked a favourite or most interesting image and then said why they’d chosen it. Some great stories came out… the images acted as a prompt to all kinds of memories of holidays (going on a plane), not liking planes and preferring trains (steam train), being a fan of elephants and voting for Obama. All just a reminder that museums are about ideas and about personal connections which make those ideas real.

Like a fantastic visit to a D.C. self-advocacy group ‘Project Action’ on 19th November, what was clear on Thursday was that in D.C. people know about the museums, have visited the museums and are proud of the museums. They are the museums ‘down town’. A couple of self-advocates I was chatting with the other day immediately raised the issue – currently proposed by Obama’s deficit reduction commission – to charge for Smithsonian sites. Both very much against… they should be for everyone, was the argument. Oh and the cafés are already too expensive. Always a key point.

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