Maine Historical Society (MHS) is launching a powerful new initiative in May that examines the roots of social justice topics and aims to stimulate civic engagement and foster dialogue among Mainers. The Black Lives Matter movement, political unrest, and COVID-19 converged into a societal crisis. BEGIN AGAIN: reckoning with intolerance in Maine explores Maine’s historical role in these crises, and the national dialogue on race and equity through a physical exhibition and a virtual program series. (An online exhibit will reside on Maine Memory Network.)
BEGIN AGAIN EXHIBITION: Open May 27 through December 31, 2021.
Co-curated by Anne Gass, Tilly Laskey, Darren Ranco and Krystal Williams, in collaboration with a network of advisors from diverse communities around the state, the exhibition at MHS’s Portland gallery invites the public to re-evaluate ideas, learned history, items, and policies of the past 500 years, and an entrenched system which has led to today’s civil, economic and environmental upheaval. (Read our Q&A blogpost with the co-curators.) Designed to engage visitors in a unique spatial experience, the exhibition provides a framework to consider perspectives other than the dominant narrative, and gauge inclusivity to envision a more equitable experience for all Maine’s residents in the future.
The exhibit showcases MHS’s copy of the Declaration of Independence (one of 26 remaining copies in existence) that expresses powerful ideals, but also reveals how governing benefited specific groups and disadvantaged others. Items made of wool, including a new Blanket Coat commissioned for MHS’s permanent collections by Penobscot artist Jennifer Neptune, demonstrate how actions of European settler colonialists broke treaties with Wabanaki people. Premier items from MHS’s collections and on loan explore how Maine industries like merchant trade and sugar refining were built on colonialism and a slave economy that helped establish foundations of privilege and wealth.
BEGIN AGAIN VIRTUAL PROGRAM SERIES: May 12 through December 2021
This outstanding series offers the opportunity to engage with dynamic scholars, historians, community leaders, writers, and fellow citizens. The series opens May 12 with a co-curator panel talk on the exhibition. Featured presenters in the seven-month series include Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr., noted author and MSNBC contributor; Dr. Andrea Louie, cultural anthropologist; Dr. Darren Ranco, (Penobscot) University of Maine Professor, Chair of Native American Programs; and Edward Ball, author. Unless otherwise noted, programs are free and open to the public, and air via Zoom 6:00 to 7:00 pm ET.
A sampling of upcoming programs:
May 12: BEGIN AGAIN exhibit co-curator panel discussion. Author Anne Gass, MHS Curator Tilly Laskey, UMaine Professor Dr. Darren Ranco, and Attorney Krystal Williams.
May 20: Doing One’s First Works Over: Imagining a New America. Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr.
May 26: The Life of a Klansman. Edward Ball.
June 10: Maine Black History/Heritage. Bob Greene, independent historian.
June 17: From Chinese Laundress to Mother of the Year: Toy Len Goon. Dr. Andrea Louie.
June 24: 200 Years of Jews in Maine. Dr. David M. Freidenreich, Pulver Family Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Colby College.
“To me, BEGIN AGAIN is a piece of a larger truth and reconciliation process that we need to do in this country, to understand and admit to past wrongs and the harms they inflicted, to apologize, and to find a path forward.” ~ Anne Gass, Co-curator, Author and independent scholar.
“This exhibit brings back the color and nuance in a manner that invites each attendee into a somatic and reflective experience — both of which are necessary to recognize each other’s humanity and move forward together.” ~ Krystal Williams, Co-curator, Executive Advisor, Providentia Group.
“I would like to think that we have created an exhibit that informs, shows little known experiences, and also creatively challenges the visitors to the exhibit — whatever their previous knowledge about these issues.” ~ Darren Ranco, Co-curator, (Penobscot) Chair of Native American Programs, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Coordinator of Native American Research, University of Maine.
“We four co-curators worked with 16 collaborators to narrate stories, provide accurate messages, and add to scholarship and education resources about intolerance in Maine. Our methods cede the typical museum authority dynamic and acknowledge there are perspectives on Maine history that have been left out over the centuries.” ~ Tilly Laskey, Curator, MHS.