Lately I’ve been fascinated by stories of people and communities who have worked together to save our cultural heritage when it has been at risk. During World War II, people all over the world sandbagged, packed, transported and hid works of art and artifacts. There was a group of men and women – museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects and archivists – many with the military, who served as Monuments Men. Their job was to save as much of Europe’s culture as they could. More recently, I’ve read news reports of men and women in the Middle East who have stayed at museums and cultural sites to try and save as much as they can from destruction.
It’s made me think about how important our culture is to us. If people are willing to risk everything to save art and history, then, at some level, we must really recognize its importance. In the United States, our cultural institutions haven’t faced the kind of threat that museums and libraries have in other parts of the world. We are fortunate in that.
Our libraries and museums face a different kind of threat. Our cultural heritage may disappear if we quit caring about it. I don’t know if I would have the courage that the Monuments Men had. But I do know that I can be a different kind of museum hero. I can volunteer at my local museums. I can write a check. I can encourage my children to spend less time with video games and more time with real objects.
Can you be a museum hero?
Tamara Hemmerlein is the Hoosier Heritage Alliance coordinator at IHS. She will be traveling all over Indiana to advocate for good collections stewardship. Tamara loves mashed potatoes and ice cream, but not together.