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Friday, June 9 • 4:50pm - 5:00pm
New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center

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MTWTF was commissioned by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation to develop the content strategy, design, and media for a permanent exhibition, Seeing Equal Rights in New York State, at the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center. The Center is one of a series of Regional Welcome Centers established by Former Governor Andrew Cuomo to support the state’s growing tourism industry. Just a mile from the newly designated Harriet Tubman National Historical Park and a short drive from Seneca Falls, the Center highlights statewide attractions related to the ongoing struggles for equal rights.

The Center is unique in its focus and purpose. The Center is intended to act as a launching pad for visitors to explore New York State rather than as a museum. One of the primary challenges of this project was to develop a content strategy that highlighted the work of activist New Yorkers in a space authored by the State. Through research with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; the New York State Museum; the City of Auburn; and a broad team of historians, these struggles were revealed to be fundamentally interrelated and ongoing. Key figures like Frederick Douglass and Elisabeth Cady Stanton were deeply involved in fighting for a universal right to suffrage although they disagreed on the how to navigate prioritization of enfranchisement for African Americans or women. The relationship between these concurrent struggles reflect Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, which emphasizes that “cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society” (Crenshaw, 1989).

Exhibits sort content—portraits, posters, songs—by type rather than movement or chronology. Portraits, speeches, songs, and posters are supported by quotes from famous New Yorkers who fought for equal rights and “did you know?” facts. Each print is accompanied by a plaque that suggests a relevant attraction where visitors could learn more. On an introductory map wall, attractions are grouped into categories like “homes of key figures,” “sites of memorium,” and “interpretive centers.” Posters carried at contemporary marches in New York State are woven into the Center’s two poster walls, putting the struggles of contemporary New Yorkers in conversation with those of the past.

Aiming to be a vivid and immersive experience, the exhibition is designed with an understanding of these exhibits as “meeting places, grounds for open discussion between people” (Kinross, 1994). It was with this intention that the exhibition was designed to peak the interests of visitors and suggest relevant attractions where visitors could learn more instead of articulating a re-historicization of these movements authored by the State. Acting as intermediaries between the local community and the State, our team spoke directly with members of the public who generously contributed reproductions from their archives to support a broader representation of material than that which was provided by the State. Local performing artists were invited to create new recordings of songs and speeches that have been instrumental to these struggles for equal rights. Notably, students at the nearby Genesee Elementary school recorded songs that they had written about Harriet Tubman’s legacy. These exhibits offer a way for the local community to continue to act as stewards for the legacy of equal rights in New York State and beyond.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989) "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics," University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8.
Kinross, Robin (1994). Fellow Readers: Notes on Multiplied Language. Hyphen Press.


Sarah Dunham

Visiting Assistant Professor, Pratt Institute

Friday June 9, 2023 4:50pm - 5:00pm EDT
PS 405 (Design Center)