*Cultural images from the Ferguson protests are headed into a museum.
Street-artist paintings on boards protecting store windows, signs bearing the now iconic statement, “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot,” and more items are being gathered for the Missouri History Museum, which will catalog the unrest that followed the August shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
The museum in St. Louis’ Forest Park is in the process of gathering not only physical artifacts from Ferguson, but Twitter feeds, oral histories from protesters, residents and police, and even cellphone videos. It’s all meant to give future generations a real-time perspective from those affected by the shooting and the aftermath that included protests, riots, and the strained relations between police and minority communities.
The items aren’t being collected for a specific exhibition and will mostly be used for research. The goal is to seize on history as it happens.
“This is a rare example of being at a point where history is made all around you,” said Chris Gordon, Library and Collections director for the museum. “We’re standing in the midst of it, and we haven’t had that chance very often. Documenting everything we can – getting all sides, all perspectives – is very important.”
Aside from its regular exhibits, the expansive museum offers a public library housing an array of documents, relics and written words from events dating back more than two hundred years, including the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Louisiana Purchase.
Gordon said the museum has already collected T-shirts, protest signs, buttons. Photos have been taken of a makeshift memorial for Brown in the street where he was killed. And efforts are in place to secure graffiti art, still highly visible in Ferguson. Plywood boards over store windows still contain messages such as, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere,” and “Stop the Violence.”
Some items have been hard for Gordon to procure. He has failed to find a spent tear gas canister or rubber bullet – items used by police when the protests turned violent. He is also pursuing buttons, T-shirts and signs showing support for Wilson, but they are hard to come by because there were not so many demonstrations in the officer’s favor.
Museum officials are working with Washington University, where researchers are collecting cellphone video along with Tweets, emails, Facebook posting and other social media related to unrest in Ferguson and St. Louis for a project called “Documenting Ferguson.”
It is unclear if any of the items will ever be put on display.
“The biggest portion of this will be for research purposes,” Gordon said. “Our hope is to preserve this for future generations so they can get a clearer picture of what actually happened.”