Truth & Trust: Museums in a Polarized Society
As the 2016 election confirmed, America is a divided nation. Political discourse is now so polarized, many people have a hard time relating to their ideological opposites. They believe the other side lives in an alternate universe, another planet, a reality completely alien and incomprehensible.
The political process has upended our sense of reality. Politics have always employed embellishment and truth-shading as means to ends. But this past election season mendacity has become the norm. We are living in what is being called a “post-truth society.” With so many lies, falsehoods, and obfuscations masquerading as truth, it is hard to determine fact from fiction. Reality has become relative. Will our society ever see eye-to-eye again?
In this context, museums offer a compass. Museum spaces and collections help people find clarity. When people encounter a work of art, an antiquity, a scientific breakthrough, a historical event, a wonder of nature, or any of the other things museums offer, they experience authenticity. This is why museums are considered among the most trusted sources of information today.
How should museums use that trust? Can they employ it to redefine reality for communities bewildered by political crosscurrents? Is it possible for museums to help unify and heal our polarized society? Restore civility to our civic dialogue? Help unstick the wheels of government?
These questions and more are the inspiration for this year’s conference theme, Truth & Trust: Museums in a Polarized Society. Join the discussion this October on Cape Cod!