Saturday, January 26, through Sunday, June 2
Putnam Museum & Science Center, 1717 West 12th Street, Davenport IA
Race is an issue that, in daily life, can feel like a daunting one to approach. Yet Davenport's Putnam Museum & Science Center is addressing the subject head-on in its new, interactive, and accessible traveling exhibition RACE: Are We So Different? Open to museum guests from January 26 through June 2, RACE aims to help visitors of all ages better understand the origins and manifestations of race and racism in everyday life by investigating race and challenging its misconceptions through the framework of science. And as Putnam President and CEO Kim Findlay says, it's an exhibit designed “to explore race through history, science, and culture – which happen to be the three things the Putnam focuses on.”
As Findlay states, RACE: Are We So Different? “was commissioned by the American Anthrpological Association as a project that included a book and this exhibit that has traveled the country and been seen my four million people. It's been hosted by the Smithsonian; it's recently been in Chicago and Flint, Michigan; it's on permanent exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. And the traveling exhibit – which I had wanted for the Putnam for several years – was supposed to stop in 2017, but we got a phone call saying that they decided to continue traveling it, so it's a very fortunate situation that we we're able to host it here in the Quad Cities.”
Encompassing roughly 5,000 square feet of space, RACE explores its subject through three themed categories: History (an exhibit portion featuring timeline articles and displays on historical and cultural events), Human Variation (featuring interactive presentations on subjects such as “The Human Spectrum” and “Our Molecular Selves”), and Lived Experience (featuring the interactive “Game of Life Experience” and a sports quiz testing players' knowledge of facts and stereotypes). Findlay, meanwhile, says “The exhibit is to be eye-opening in an accessible way, introducing us to aspects of a topic that is with us every day, whether because of the paths we walk, or because of social media or the nightly news … . But how thoughtful have you really been about it? So here's that opportunity to open dialogue and discussion – which is a Putnam mission – about something that's with us all the time.
“It's not a little-kids exhibit,” Findlay continues. “People always ask me what age of children it's appropriate for, and in some respects, that depends on your own family dynamic and on the child. If you're going to come as a family and use this exhibit as a way to discuss race as a family, then I would say, with parental guidance, the kids could be relatively young. But as a school-group experience, it's probably best for junior-high students and up. It's an important topic. It's not a pop-culture exhibit.”
RACE is also an exhibit being presented by the Putnam with a keen eye toward local involvement. “We're offering discussion circles,” says Findlay. “So if a small group wants to come in – a social group, a book club, people from the same business or church – they can be in the exhibit for an hour, and then take their immersion in the subject, their a-ha moments, and have a facilitated discussion. We've had a community team working on how to best ensure that the exhibit is utilized beyond the walls of the Putnam, so this could be a springboard for greater community discussion, action, and positive forward movement on equity and inclusion.”
During the exhibition's engagement, the venue's Grand Lobby will also boast what is being called the Putnam Ancestry Map. “On January 18 and 19,” says Findlay, “we're going to have a concentrated effort to have people come in, and we'll be putting up their ancestry as they're in our presence. The map is 24 feet wide by 12 feet tall with the Quad Cities pretty much in the middle of the world, and people can draw lines from their origins to the Quad Cities.
“My ancestry, for example, is predominantly Great Britain and Scotland, so I'm going to draw lines from there to the Quad Cities, and then I'm going to have a little postage-stamp-size picture of my head on that line. My husband is 80-plus-percent Norwegian, so his line is going to come from Norway to the Quad Cities. A friend of mine is principally from northwestern Africa, so his line and his photo go from that direction.
“And when we get this all going,” says Findlay, “I visualize this beautiful map that shows how we come from everywhere. We know we have people from Germany, and Sweden, and Belgium, and such from the names of places and people in the Quad Cities. But it's going to be really interesting to see how far and wide around the globe we actually go. In other words: 'Here's the RACE exhibit. And it's about you, as well.'”
RACE: Are We So Different? will be on display at the Putnam Museum from January 26 through June 2, with regular museum hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Entrance to the exhibit is free with $8-9 museum admission (made possible through grants from the Regional Development Authority and the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation), and more information is available by calling (563)324-1933 or visiting Putnam.org.