Museums were intended to be centers for learning and spaces to educate the public. Our current understanding and approach to these institutions grew from a human impulse to collect, categorize, and understand. To make meaning.
But as Savannah’s new Progressive Regression: Examination of a 19th Century Museum exhibition makes clear, museums are intimately connected with imperial enterprises and colonial attitudes, especially concerning private property, collections, ownership, and access. This problematic ethical and moral territory is the basis for the cultural reckoning happening in museums throughout the United States as they rethink their relevance, particularly related to underrepresented communities.
Progressive Regression opened at the Telfair Academy in January to offer visitors an intimate case study of the history, philosophy, founding ideals, and contemporary purpose of Western historical museums. The exhibition is refreshingly self-reflective in sharing its history, openly asking vital questions, and inviting the public into a dialogue about our shared responsibility for the cultural institutions of the future.
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