[Editors note: the existence and direction of The Charles Wright Museum of African American History has been questioned lately. The decision to bring the Jefferson Paradox exhibit over the objections of The Black Legacy Group only adds to the conflict.Detroit IPTV is offering 2 opinion pieces (David Rambeau and Sharon Howell) to give the public and the Wright Museum an opportunity to express their comments.]
By David Rambeau
Some of the people, would-be pundits, who consider themselves “woke”, have been fat-mouthing about how the local museum board and the museum directors brought the Jefferson slavery exhibit to the Wright Museum.
Wrong. The decision was really made in D.C. at the Smithsonian Museum when their power-brokers decided to underwrite the touring exhibit product. Once they did that, they had to have 6 to 8 venues, preferably black museums in cities with large black populations, to host it when the D.C. producers did their national tour. That meant the Wright in Detroit had to take it. And it did for a three month run.
If the Wright wanted to keep in good graces with the Smithsonian for future headline museum products, or with other big-time touring exhibit producers, they had to take this one to stay in the touring loop.
In the past and in the present you’ve always heard Wright officials prelude every program with the self/praise about it being the largest black museum in the country. Now the Smithsonian is number one, larger, with more money, more connections and prestige, in the political power city and in the business of developing national exhibit product (which the Wright never does).Anything they develop the Wright will have to host to maintain its standing as a full-time daily venue instead of a weekend or one/day/a/week institution and its so-called national status.
If you can’t be number one, you might as well be runner-up. To be number two, you have to play the high stakes game.
Moreover, the Wright is a victim of its size. When you’re big, you have to feed the beast. That means steadily raising big money, recruiting members, getting publicity, getting underwriters, hosting big-time exhibits.
Given these necessities they’re always vulnerable in a tough, competitive business environment. You may think they’re in the museum business. It may even seem that way. They’re actually in show business, like large theaters in downtown or midtown Detroit that book road shows.
Every time the Wright took a step up into a larger venue, from the modest site on West Grand Blvd. to its current one in the Cultural Center, with more staff, they became more financially and productively vulnerable. Now there’s no turning back. The jackals, competition, closing, takeover, merger and decline, are always lurking.
The Wright took the Jefferson paradox propaganda ride because they couldn’t afford not to. They didn’t have a choice. They won’t have a choice in the future.