Relive DC’s Year of Protests at This Pop-Up Museum

An exhibit at the Potter's House will focus on the immediate past, but there will be historical artifacts too.
Relive DC’s Year of Protests at This Pop-Up Museum
Photograph by Evy Mages.

Over the past year, scores of DC residents have acquired quite an assemblage of protest materials: pink pussy hats, signs, buttons, decals, and costumes. Plus, someone has got to have that giant inflatable Trump chicken lying around.

This weekend, folks will have the chance to contribute that memorabilia to a pop-up exhibit called Protest Matters! An Interactive People’s Museum, housed at The Potter’s House on Columbia Road, Northwest.

Siobhán McGuirk, a Georgetown adjunct professor in anthropology and participant in local movements like No Justice No Pride, is heading up the effort to coincide with the American Anthropological Association’s annual conference, which is in town this week.

McGuirk says that many anthropologists believe their insights are making a difference in the political realm, but “you can’t presume to play that role unless you’re speaking with, meeting with, and sharing space with local activists and organizers.”

Just as anthropologists might excavate old pottery to determine the rituals of a long-gone civilization, McGuirk thinks that the more recent detritus and “material culture” from demonstrations will provide out-of-towners an opportunity to understand DC activist communities. She adds that holding the exhibit at the Potter’s House, which “plays an incredibly important role in DC’s organizing, present and past,” adds another layer of context for attendees.

“It’s also an opportunity for activists to share what they’re doing right now” with one another, she says.

What, precisely, will comprise the exhibit depends largely on what visitors choose to bring. “The limits and parameters of the museum’s contents will be determined by the people who contribute, and that’s why it’s called a people’s museum,” says McGuirk.

For the past few weeks, folks have been able to submit their items with the help of an online portal, which also means they’ll be included in a virtual museum for those who can’t make it in the flesh. But the pop-up will also accept in-person donations, either as a loan or on a permanent basis.

Many of the already-contributed artifacts are from the past year, “partly because there’s a lot of things going on, but that’s also the kind of thing people keep around,” says McGuirk. However, there are also objects from Occupy DC, the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s, and more.

There will be a video camera set up so people can explain their items or discuss why protest matters to them, along with an informal open mic beginning at 5:30 PM on Friday evening, as well.

This isn’t the only attempt to curate modern protest materials in the District. Indeed, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has already started collecting and displaying some artifacts from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Just like the Smithsonian museums, Protest Matters! is free.

Protest Matters! An Interactive People’s Museum opens at 5:30 – 8 PM on Thursday, November 30, and will be open from 8 AM – 8 PM on December 1 and 2 at The Potter’s House (1658 Columbia Road, NW).

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