Monday, October 16, 2017

The First onePULSE Foundation Town Hall Meeting.

The onePULSE Foundation's first Town Hall meeting was held at the Rep Theater (1001 E Princeton St, Orlando, FL 32803). 400 people reserved tickets to attend. The meeting was a panel discussion exploring why and how we create memorials and museums, and what is involved in the process. Experts from around the country came to share their experiences. Barbara Poma, the Pulse Nightclub owner and onePULSE Foundation executive director, said, "Building a permanent memorial and museum at the site is the most powerful way to pay respect for the lives taken, and to all those affected on that awful night." The moderator for the night, was journalist Indira Lakshmanan.

Kari Watkins, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial was the first panelist on the left. The event was being held just one week after the mass murder in Las Vegas. She explained that the community memorials had already begun. An empty lot was acquired from the city and 58 trees were planted, one tree for each victim. At the Oklahoma City Bombing site one tree had survived and saplings were being handed out. 168 people died. Initially, the Chamber of Commerce was not on board with the plans for a museum and memorial, they didn't want their city to be known as the city that had been bombed. The site is now the most visited tourist attraction in the state.

Ed Linenthal is a PhD and author of several books such as Sacred Ground, Preserving Memory, and The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory. He explained that the process of deciding what to put on a site is incredibly difficult because you are dealing with an open wound. We need to get rid of psycho babble words like "closure". People in Orlando will be living along side of the Pulse tragedy for a very long time and that is OK. There is a new "normal". The process involves many, many people who are very personally involved. Everything is a razor's edge issue. Should there be 49 hearts, trees, or points of light here?... on and on and on. How could it not be agonizing? Memorials are a protest of the anonymity of mass murder in our times.

Jan Ramirez, is the Executive Vice President of Collections and the Chief Curator of the National September 11th Memorial and Museum in NYC. She explained that the NYC site is an unplanned cemetery. 40% of the close to 3,000 people who died when the towers fell, have no remains. The families never had the comfort of a burial. Our work is never done. Only since the museum opened have many victim's families decided to share their stories and artifacts.

Anthony Gardner is the Senior Vice President of Government and Community Affairs at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. He became involved after his brother Harvey died in the tower collapse. The process of building a memorial is going to be painful. It needs to be. The reaction to people visiting the 9/11 memorial is universal, they pause and say to themselves, "I am there." They know it is a tragic story, they know it is painful, but they leave inspired, because this is a story in which the best of humanity responded to the worst of humanity.

Anthony's brother Harvey loved history. The night before he was killed, he was watching a documentary on WWII. He became a part of the history he cherished just several hours later. Harvey is one of the 40% who were never identified after the towers fell. The family didn't have anything of his that was recovered. He found himself trapped in that office. The one call that got through to Harvey allowed the family to overhear him comforting his colleagues, who were starting to panic. He was directing people and he was calm and brave in those acts, so the family holds on to that. Anthony values the authenticity of place and setting. He feels some authentic fabric of Pulse should be left behind. Authenticity of place helps people connect that didn't have that direct experience.

Pam Schwartz is the Chief Curator of the Orange County Regional History Center. "...Typically museums collect, "old stuff". We  have historical perspective on that... When doing rapid response or contemporary collecting, you have to rely 50% on your training and education, and 50% on intuition, or what we think might be an important historical story...That can change very rapidly. It took 9 years for Orlando to get the title of the worst mass shooting after Virginia Tech. It took just 16 months to give that title to Las Vegas. The history of our event is already changing based on what is happening in Vegas. The question goes from, "How could this happen to us", to "Is it ever going to stop?..."

Pam explained, a mass shooting is when four or more people, not including the shooter, are "shot and/or killed" at "the same general time and location." This year there have been at least 276 mass shootings in America. That is close to one mass shooting a day. We can't memorialize every single event, but each time there are people who lost their loved ones, there are emotional and mental scars. Everyone feels the most strongly about the event that affected them. You focus on the stories and try to make it a teachable moment. We are dealing with a lot of different demographics here in Orlando. Our event at Pulse is unique in that it speaks to a broader situation in our world today, in politics an in the fights we are still fighting.

She went on to say that the memorial items come from the community. They are outpourings from the heart. They are often items left because people don't know what else to do. One thing they collected was a cooler from Pulse. If you went to the Pulse site, you would have seen the big white cooler left by the police. The church down the street kept filling it every day because it is HOT in Orlando. So this artifact was one of support. 

Pam and the History Center staff were out there collecting every single day and  drank some of that water. One day, they showed up and it was just covered in signatures. There were all these signed banners full of love and support, and then people were like,  "What else can we sign?" So they collected this cooler, it is sort of a living history of the memorials. 

The History Center staff also went into the club after the site was released back to Barbara Poma. Pam approached and asked if things could be collected from inside. That might seem a bit macabre, but think of it as Abraham Lincoln's hat or the artifacts you might see at the 9/11 museum. These are very real artifacts that tell a story. Should they be displayed now or put them on exhibition, no, but in 200 years there will be people who were not here, did not experience it, and it is very real evidence that this event truly happened to people. The History Center also has items from Pulse before this event. Pulse has a very rich history before June 12, it was home to so many people.

In response to a question from the audience about ensuring the process is inclusive, Pam explained that this series of community conversations are the first link to inclusivity for everyone. Everyone should fill out the online Survey for the Memorial. The results of which will become the design brief that will go out to the potential designers for the memorial and museum. This is not a fast process. It takes time, so we have several years to figure this out together. This is at its heart a community event. It happened to us all in some way shape or form. It will be a community conversation and ultimately a community decision in how we move forward. That is why they are starting to have meetings with families of survivors and other community members. Talk to onePulse Foundation members. They want to know what everybody is thinking. They do not have all the right answers for what this can look like or what it should look like right now, but they are beginning the process and want everybody who feels attached to this to be involved.

In other Pulse related news, the City just approved a temporary memorial designed by Dix.Hite + Partners which will add landscaping to soften the area while replacing the fence with more aesthetically pleasing elements. A rainbow colored sidewalk crossing was also approved by the City and already painted into place.  I filled out the survey and it took no longer that 10 minutes. Be sure to fill out the survey as well. Your voice matters, your opinion matters. Help shape the future of the Pulse memorial site. Earl Crittenden offered a quote that pointed the way towards a solution, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." - Abe Lincoln

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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