Inspiration from across the pond: part 2

A guest post from Andrea Winn, Curator of Community Exhibitions, who shares her reflections on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, part of the Museum’s trip to New York and Washington that was funded through the University of Manchester’s Investing in Success staff development programme.

We started our adventures in New York where we had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum which is dedicated to deepening understanding of the continuing impact of 9/11 both in America and around the world. Located at the World Trade Centre site in Lower Manhattan the memorial gardens and museum are beautifully and sensitively presented with very moving displays and tributes to those who lost their lives.

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During the museum visit, we each went at our own pace and processed the displays in our own way, taking time to digest the horror and scale of the events of 9/11. The historical exhibition has three parts, one of which explores the day itself, including the events at the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the story of Flight 93. The exhibition also presents the context for 9/11 covering both the lead-up to the events of 9/11 as well as examining their aftermath and continuing implications.

The memorial exhibition, which is named In Memoriam, commemorates the lives of those who perished on both September 11, 2001 and the earlier attack on the World Trade Centre on February 26, 1993. Here visitors are able to learn about the men, women and children who died. Particularly moving was the ‘no day shall erase you from the memory of time’ artwork wall where each person who lost their life is represented in a different and unique shade of blue.

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Whist visiting the museum we were fortunate enough to meet with three members of staff: the Senior Vice President of Exhibitions, Ian Kerrigan, Director of Education, Megan Jones and their Chief Curator, Jan Ramirez. The team were so generous with their time sharing their experiences of developing the museum, the exhibitions and supporting programmes, and were a true inspiration.

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We had lots of questions for the team about how they manage the mental health and wellbeing of staff, volunteers, student placements and interns and, likewise, how they look after visitors when dealing with such a challenging topic. We also found out about their work with the local community, residents of the city and schools, and what types of programming they offer to these groups. Their collection was also of interest, and we were keen to discover what types of objects they collect, how they initiated the process of collecting and many more questions besides.

The team gave great insight into the processes they developed to create the museum and how they went about engaging with local communities – from the families of those who died, to the fire and police service departments – in the creation of the memorial as well as the development of content for the museum.

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One area that was particularly interesting to me and Wendy (our Head of Learning and Engagement) was their Civic Education programme. The museum has developed an education programme for federal organisations including the FBI, Police and the fire service, which is aimed at new recruits. These people include individuals who were young children in 2001 as well as those whose parents were amongst the service personnel who perished in the world trade centre event. The museums sees its role as facilitator of conversations and the programme sets out the history of 9/11 exploring how we talk about the events, terrorism and religion.  The museum has many other inspiring education programmes and resources that can be access through their website.

While the whole group finished the museum visit feeling very contemplative and emotional, after speaking to the 9/11 team, we left feeling inspired by their work and hopeful for the future. We emerged from the museum into a city on a warm and sunny day feeling moved by our experience.

With thanks again to colleagues at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum for their time and generosity in sharing their experiences – Ian Kerrigan (Senior Vice President, Exhibitions), Jan Ramirez (Chief Curator) Megan Jones (Director of Education Programmes).

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