Thrift-store items become catalyst for changing ideas on race
Agent of social change might not be the first phrase patrons of Bethel College’s Kauffman Museum would use to describe it.
However, the museum’s most recent special exhibit,
Sorting Out Race, which closed at the end of May and is being transformed into a traveling exhibit, put it squarely in that arena and, as it happens, on to the cutting edge of the place of museums in contemporary American culture and society.
In a public program on the exhibit’s closing day, Kauffman Museum director Annette LeZotte and former director Rachel Pannabecker ’80 led a group reflection on the kinds of exhibits the museum had presented in the past.
It became clear that they have followed one of two patterns, LeZotte said –
either drawing from the permanent collection to take a new or specialized look at a particular topic, or expanding on local or regional history.
It isn’t that past exhibits haven’t touched on social issues, Pannabecker added, but
Sorting Out Race was the first Kauffman Museum has done that set out to deliberately explore one.
About five years ago, Leia Lawrence, then manager of the Newton Etcetera Shop, a thrift store with a largely volunteer staff that donates its profits to Mennonite Central Committee for local and global relief and service programs, approached Pannabecker with a question.
What, she wondered, should she do with items she was getting in the Et Cetera donation bin that
make me uncomfortable? These were things that
communicated stereotypes about race – for example, household and decorative items depicting
the lazy Mexican, or school sports items with Native American mascots.
For more of this article, visit the Bethel College website.