I just spent most of a day at the Museum of Science and Industry, and I have come to the conclusion that the Museum is utterly embarrassed by the exhibit they are hosting from the DEA.
It shows up in so many little things.
- A friend of mine who works at the museum told me he was holding off making a judgment until he’d had a chance to see it — most of the museum staff had not — but of those who had seen it, about half hated it.
- Another staff member I didn’t know but struck up conversation with was upset with the museum administration. “They just sprung it on us! No advance preparation — just ‘Oh, by the way, there’s a new exhibit opening tomorrow.'” He thought it was pretty stupid.
- The museum itself seems to have avoided any publicity. No press releases specifically about the exhibit — they left that to the DEA. Very little advance info on the website — they finally updated the website today with a bunch of information that I assume was provided by the DEA (although I don’t know that for sure).
- There were no signs in the museum today saying that the exhibit existed, nor was it on the map. I had to ask for directions and finally found it — accessing it the only way you can, by turning a hard right at the top of the second escalator, go through Networld, and the World Live Theatre, and the Whispering Gallery (ah, memories), turn right through Imaging, and then finally a left into the exhibit (which has warning sign at the door saying it might not be appropriate for children).
- It was included in today’s museum newsletter, but as the third item — after ‘one month left for the Da Vinci exhibit’ and ‘three days left in the raffle.’
- The main sponsor – McDonald’s – talks about its support of SUE at the Field Museum, but as yet doesn’t even mention Target America
- Finally, the degree to which upper museum administration staff I interacted with were almost pathetically anxious to find ways to limit our ability to pass out flyers seemed like a desperate attempt to reduce visibility for the exhibit. They weren’t even interested in looking at what our flyer said (they may have already known by downloading it on the website – they were expecting me). It felt more that they didn’t want any attention paid to that particular exhibit.
There’s good reason for them to be embarrassed. The first five minutes I spent in the exhibit, I couldn’t stop laughing. Now, part of that is my knowledge of how the DEA works (something that the museum staff probably don’t have), but even still — the degree to which it was a blatant effort to manipulate people emotionally while acting as a two floor infomercial for the DEA was astonishing. The shamelessness with which they have a display about Peter Bensinger with picture and articles (Oh, that’s right — he helped fund the exhibit). Or the mere fact that they have a display on Anslinger! In fact, one of the video monitors was actually showing a DEA infomercial. Another one had Karen Tandy talking, while yet another was playing the frying pan TV commercial.
If Lisa Miner or Joel M. Asprooth from the Museum is reading this, feel free to correct me. Tell me that you’re proud of the exhibit. You know from our conversation with what high regard I hold the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. As I mentioned this morning, it’s my favorite museum of all time.
It seems to me that if you were actually proud of the exhibit, you’d welcome a dialog. You’d want someone to debate us and show us that we’re wrong, or something. You’d think that showing people another point of view than the DEA’s would be valuable, so people could make up their minds. But despite the fact that you have told me that there is approval process in the museum, and someone from outside can’t just plop down an exhibit — that’s exactly what it looks like. I’ve worked with museum curators, and I know the process. Every single museum curator I know would find this exhibit embarrassing. And you should, too. I guess maybe you do.
More on the exhibit, and today’s experiences at the museum later…