Museums, libraries, archives, science centers, and other institutions that hold cultural knowledge in public trust are pushing back against the notion that we are entering a post-fact or post-truth moment in our political history. Today, institutions around the country and the world — including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the London Science Museum, the American Alliance of Museums, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Chinese in America, and many more will take to their social media platforms to share mission-related content using the hashtag #DayofFacts, which has both an associated website and a Twitter handle.
The event was organized by two women who work in museums, Mara Kurlandsky and Allison Hartley, though Kurlandsky is careful to point out that their organizations were not involved in the creation of #DayofFacts. The pair personally reached out to colleagues in their professional networks in order to arrange this public remonstration.
Kurlandsky says that the point of #DayofFacts is not to make an explicit political statement, but to share mission-related, objective, and relevant facts to reaffirm that our institutions are trusted sources of knowledge and will continue to be. She regards #DayofFacts as an opportunity to assert that these civic institutions are welcoming places for everyone, including those who may be feeling more marginalized now than, say, a year ago. Kurlandsky and Hartley asked representatives in the participating institutions to share facts relevant to their area of study, some of which might be seen as controversial: climate change, immigration history, refugee issues, the first amendment, the importance of public education, and media literacy. The organizers have four main goals for #DayofFacts: to assure the public that we intend to stay loyal to our missions, no matter what; to provoke dialogue with our publics about the issues pertinent to them; to show organizations that forthrightly acknowledging current events can in fact forger stronger relationships with visitors; and to encourage the cultural and scientific sector as a whole to embrace social justice as a key value, and feel empowered to speak out confidently this value is under attack.
I asked Kurlandsky whether she thought there was any merit to the idea that, as others have alleged, facts have lost the ability to create consensus, or that we have essentially “become blind to proof, no longer able to know.” She said that these arguments, while intellectually interesting in the abstract, are employed to close down discussion, and she believes that most people who work in her field or related fields (she is a manager of digital engagement at the National Museum of Women in the Arts) still believe in research, careful contemplation, and basing conclusions on evidence. Indeed, to my mind this is the key difference between those trumpeting the idea of a post-fact culture: that group is essentially nihilistic and poisonously cynical, while academics and researchers (and I am a scholar and researcher of museums as well) want to keep the conversation going, but within what we think are useful and productive boundaries.