Q&A: Michael Gagne, director of Philly’s first peace museum

A museum entry design concept rendering by FIT and SUNY students Danae Colomer and Amanda Zanski.

A new kind of museum is asking Philadelphia to give peace a chance. The Envision Peace Museum, slated to open its doors in 2014 in a yet-to-be-determined space in Center City, will feature interactive exhibits about social justice geared toward provoking discussion and encouraging action. And it boasts big-name advisory board members like Judy Wicks, Alan Greenberger and Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s. Director Michael Gagne spoke with Metro last week about the museum’s vision.

What was the inspiration behind the Envision Peace Museum?

A big part of it was the idea of building a space for people to ask better questions about how change happens in our society, the roots of violence and where we’re going. The first chair of the board, an [architect and museum planner] named Tony Junker, went into a museum bookshop just after the start of the second Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq. And he noticed all these books about our nation’s military history, particularly geared toward children. He found himself asking, ‘How can we break the cycle if these are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves all the time?’ And as someone who came from a museum field, he realized we have [thousands] of military museums throughout the country, but very few dedicated to peace and justice in the world.

What will the ‘What is Peace’ exhibit consist of?

I see that exhibit, which is just being developed, as kind of a skeleton key to unlock the larger content of the museum. ‘What is Peace’ will be a springboard allowing us explore what are the fundamental questions about peace and violence. … In terms of what it’ll look like, it’s not just going to be panels on the wall. We envision really experiential exhibits – not just multimedia, but simulations and games that invite people to draw their own conclusions out of those experiences, which I think is kind of congruent with the idea of peace-building.

What’s your timeline for development?

Right now, we’re seeing this as a phased development strategy similar to the Please Touch Museum, where you open a smaller space and use it as a [springboard] to launch a large space. We plan to open our first space in 2014. … Then, the timeline for the second, what we’re calling ‘the ultimate museum,’ might be five years later, but we’re in the process of figuring that out with the communities within Philadelphia and beyond.

What it will look like

Founded in 2007, the Envision Peace Museum underwent an extended visioning phase, soliciting advice from professionals across many fields while generating buzz through a series of traveling exhibitions and, most recently, a film screening and discussion.

The museum is in the process of forming an academic advisory board to establish even more “curatorial credibility,” as Gagne calls it. Envision Peace will on Nov. 3 hold an implementation conference to assess its progress since its strategic planning conference two years ago and to discuss its next step – namely, breaking ground on a physical location. Here’s a rundown of some of the components planned for the space so far:

– A prototyping space, or “peace lab,” where the public can come try out an exhibit before it launches and offer feedback, making the museum’s content a collaborative effort between curators and the community.

– Exhibition galleries featuring living collections, such as stories, discussions, simulations and tools for change.

– A gallery and event space for multimedia art, performances and discussions – special guests TBA. “I’m really excited about number of amazing musicians and performers who are very pro-peace and pro-justice who we see being really supportive about this,” Gagne said.

– An online museum that includes story collections, exhibits and forums for discussion.

Classrooms offering training for visitors to become peace-builders themselves, “So people aren’t just inspired on a head and heart level,” Gagne said. “But to ask, ‘How do I build the skills to become an agent of change in my community?’”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Thousands protest in New York over Eric Garner…

The Reverend Al Sharpton led thousands of chanting but peaceful activists in a march across Staten Island on Saturday to protest the death of Eric Garner.

International

Egypt calls for Gaza ceasefire as fighting rages

Egypt called on Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday to halt fire and resume peace talks, but violence continued unabated.

National

SpaceX rocket terminated in Texas test flight

A Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9 rocket suffered an anomaly shortly after launch on a test flight, triggering its automatic termination system.

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

Music

Arcade Fire concert review, Massachusetts, Aug. 19

Arcade Fire take the opposite approach of "Shut up and play the hits," and it works in their favor on the "Reflektor" tour.

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

NFL

3 things we learned about the Giants in…

The Giants claimed the Snoopy trophy in a battle of MetLife Stadium tenants Friday night. But more importantly, the offense finally showed some life in…

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

Wellbeing

Asics is giving away free gear around NYC…

Asics wants to see you on the court - and in the stands for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday - by giving away free…

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…