Visual Culture

Museums are collecting protest signs from the George Floyd demonstrations.

Daria Simone Harper
Jun 15, 2020 3:26PM, via New York Times

Signs attached to the security fence at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images.

Museum curators have been collecting protest signs, images, and other memorabilia from recent protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police Department custody. Nine curators from three different Smithsonian museums surveyed the site of protests that have been taking place outside the White House near Lafayette Square; in addition to acquiring artifacts, they spoke with organizers and protesters about current events.

Aaron Bryant, a curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), told the New York Times:

It is critical that we collect so this moment does not get lost. We talk to people so we don’t forget their stories. History is happening right before us. [...] If we don’t collect this stuff, who knows what happens to it.

Bryant spent several days in the Lafayette Square area, and said he was “captivated” by the artwork he saw attached to steel fences and boarded up windows.

This endeavor is part of a new initiative adopted by many museums in recent years called “rapid response collecting.” NMAAHC has partnered with the National Museum of American History and the Anacostia Community Museum, which also had a team of curators at the protest last week. The museum has not yet shared which objects will join its collection, or which artist may be involved with the coalition.

In Michigan, the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives has asked protestors to donate posters and signs to be part of a permanent exhibit titled “Art of Protest.”

Further Reading: Artists Amplify the Power of Protest Signs

Daria Simone Harper
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019