Saturday, May 12, 2018

KNPR Radio Interview in Las Vegas

Pam Schwartz and I took a trip to Las Vegas where she was attending a National Council on Public History conference. This scheduling coincidence brought memorial experts to Las Vegas as their museums are continuing to collect and catalogued the items of remembrance that people left after the October 1, 2017 shooting that took 58 lives and had over 500 injured treated at area hospitals. With breakout segments like  “Documenting Resilience: Condolence Collection Projects in the Wake of Violence,” the national gathering of academics plans to discuss how communities such as Orlando, Newtown, Connecticut, and Isla Vista, California responded to mass casualty trauma.

KNPR Radio interviewed a panel of individuals who have had to collect in the wake of tragedy. Melissa Barthelemy is a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara who worked on efforts there. Pam Schwartz is chief curator of the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando, Florida and created and led the effort to manage the collection of items left at the scene of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. Cynthia Sanford is the registrar at the Clark County Museum. She is heading up the effort to collect and catalog many of the items left at some of the memorials in Las Vegas.

I sketched as the three fielded questions. Producer Doug Puppel set the tone of the interview. Barthelemy said the collection, archiving and exhibition of items from pop-up memorials are a new area of history research. These kinds of memorials really only started to appear in the last few decades. She said people point to the many impromptu memorials left in the wake of Princess Diana's death as a contributor to the rise of spontaneous memorials. The fact that these mass memorials are visible on TV and social media contribute to the rise in items left in the wake of tragedy.

Schwartz said not every community is impacted the same way by a mass casualty event and therefore not every community reacts in the same way. Those differences change what is collected and how it is exhibited. “The biggest thing for people to understand, especially people who have not been through a similar sort of situation, is that one size doesn’t fit all,” she said. The focus of any exhibition should be on what will help the community with its healing process.

Sanford explained that her museum already has between 15,000 and 20,000 artifacts from the memorials. “Our role as a museum is to preserve the history of Southern Nevada,” she said, “Unfortunately, this event is now part of our history.” She said the museum is planning an exhibit for the one year anniversary of the shooting, but there is not a plan for a permanent home for the items. 5,000 items have been catalogued so far. 50 years from now, 100 years from now those items will be in storage. Every item you work on is someone's story. Sometimes when you get home, that is when it hits you. The three interviewees all explained that they are honored to be able to collect these events for their communities. You have to find a way to get through it.

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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