77. Trump Asks, “Who's Next?” Lyra Monteiro Answers, Washington’s Next!

Welcome to Museum Archipelago in Your Inbox, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Museum Archipelago, your audio guide to the rocky landscape of museums, is hosted by me, Ian Elsner.

This is one of President Trumpʼs tweets following the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Trump took the opportunity to argue against movements to remove statues of Confederate generals like Robert. E. Lee, which live in prominent public places in U.S. cities.

Dr. Lyra D. Monteiro had heard Trump’s slippery slope argument before—from academics, museum designers, and public officials. So she created a response to that argument in Washington's Next!, a participatory commemorative experience focused—not around a Confederate statue—but around a statue of George Washington in New York City's Union Square. The statue celebrates the idea that Washington brought freedom to the country, but Monteiro figured out how many people of African descent Washington was enslaving on the date he’s depicted in that stature: 271.

In this episode, Monteiro describes how commemorating those 271 people became central to the project, how passersby reacted, and the subtle ways that public monuments have power.

The idea of how do we make visible the enslaved people who are invisible at all of these sites of memory that were about white supremacy when they were created. And still are. - Lyra Monteiro

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Gallery Continues

In perpetration for this week’s episode, I went back and listened to a classic Museum Archipelago: 25. The Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia, Bulgaria is Figuring Out What to Do With All the Lenins. The audio is a bit early-days, but I’m proud of how it holds up. The episode now includes a full transcript.

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Museum Archipelago on #MuseumHour Next Monday

Tune into #MuseumHour at 20:00 GMT on Monday, March 23rd to watch me host Museums and Podcasts: Examining Cultural Power. The last time I hosted #MuseumHour (back in 2018) was one of my favorite hours on the internet and I’m excited to do it again.

And if you need more museum content before then, the latest episode of Archipelago at the Movies 🎟️—Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian—is now available without needing to leave your home. Stay safe.