Museums of the Future: A Responsibility to the Present

A New York Times article penned by Michael Kimmelman in today’s paper (“Auschwitz Shifts From Memorializing to Teaching”) focuses on a challenge that goes to the very heart of Pasos’ vision. For Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Awschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the discussion at hand is how to engage young people so they leave (Awschwitz-Birkenau) feeling what he calls “responsibility to the present.”

As Mr. Cywinski grapples with his challenge he explains, “To me the whole educational system regarding the Holocaust…served its purpose in terms of supplying facts and information. But there is another level of education, a level of awareness about the meaning of those facts. It’s not enough to cry. Empathy is noble, but it’s not enough.” He admits that “how” they might accomplish this remains to be fleshed out.

In regard to Pasos, we have struggled with the word “museum” that many seem to define as a place where relics of the past are displayed and appreciated. This isn’t the experience we seek. For starters, we want our visitors inspired by the creative output of other peacebuilders. However, for us this is not enough. Our goal is to have each visitor connect with these works in a way that leads to the their discovery and empowerment of the peacebuilder within. Seeing peacebuilding as a process of infinite steps, we acknowledge our responsibility to the present, and our vision for the future.

The challenge for Pasos is sizeable, but it is also exciting that we are not alone in our thinking. As with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, we see new opportunities for our cultural and historical institutions to not only reflect the past but also inspire visitors in new and powerful ways. At Pasos, we look forward to the ideas and wisdom of all who want to be part of this movement to create such a museum and center dedicated to peacebuilding.

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