Monday, January 16, 2012

In Honor of MLK Day - Examination of the Question Bridge

This morning, I sat down with a cup of tea to browse the archives news and found reference to a project that I think is a remarkable potential model for the cultural heritage field. Question Bridge: Black Males is a new video installation at the Brooklyn Museum. "[It] is an innovative transmedia art project that facilitates a dialogue between a critical mass of Black men from diverse and contending backgrounds; and creates a platform for them to represent and redefine Black male identity in America. The project creates and develops a Question Bridge and Identity Map to fulfill its mission." Appropriate for the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, the project is a unique collaborative cultural endeavor that could bring together individuals in diverse communities to discuss issues that separate them. I would like to examine some of the things cultural heritage institutions may want to consider about the project's approach.

View the article at:

Providing the setting

According to the article, Question Bridge has a goal "to demonstrate that meaningful truths can be shared between people who are radically divided from each other if a setting is established that promotes the sharing of essential questions and answers." 

One of the most important roles of cultural heritage institutions is to provide the setting for such dialogue. This is the most obvious and most important role the Brooklyn Museum is playing in this project.


According to the article, "The community outreach projects bring regional attention to the museum installations...The Question Bridge Curriculum, which is currently being piloted at schools in New York and Oakland with plans for wider distribution, is vital because it brings the messages, meanings and implications of the Question Bridge project into the lives of young people who desperately need alternative representations of cultural difference. "

This project is capable of reaching people of diverse ages, in diverse communities and through a variety of institutions. It is reaching not only museum visitors and students, it is reaching film audiences and Internet users. It seems to me that a library audience could also be a logical part of an outreach effort. 

Art as Documentation

This project hits on many of the elements I identified when defining the value of archives for Cultural Heritage Collaborators. For example, the interviews of the men in this project can easily fit into the scope of the archives field as oral history. The recognition of the overlapping varied cultural professions is essential to the health of all cultural fields. We can no longer afford to operate in separate spheres. This project shows the large scale possibilities of using an umbrella term of "cultural heritage" to promote us all. The "art" created by this project can easily be seen by archivists as documentation. It can also be used by librarians as organized knowledge for their own programming and of course by museum professionals, such as those at the Brooklyn Museum, as artifacts of humanity. We can all have a role to play in the promotion and safe keeping of what a project like this generates.


"Once those men join the process, their presence will create a self-defining Identity Map that will function as a unique database of how black men view and define themselves... as opposed to the prevalent images that are routinely projected onto them." The project allows its participants to explore their own self identity and to present it to the world in their way. It encourages us to think about this community and leaves the door open for future projects that focus on other communities. 

Opportunities to consider individual humans as members of diverse groups are much needed in contemporary society. I have argued that cultural heritage institutions have a responsibility to support a dialogue about community, with a role to help individuals explore their own identities in relation to those of larger groups.This project seems to give us a unique way of doing this.


"The website became a practical necessity once our team discovered that we had far more content than could possibly be contained in a conventional documentary or museum installation." 

What we show our audiences no longer needs to fit into a specified exhibit space. Furthermore, again and again we are shown the potential of the Internet for broadening reach and transforming an original cultural experience. The message of the Question Bridge is not exclusive for those who attend a film festival or a museum. It can and should be brought to people within their homes. Once such information enters a home, I can see it becoming part of more general conversation, effectively encouraging individuals to think about issues as part of their own lives in a way that a neutral location may not.  
I look forward to watching the progression and development of the Question Bridge. Though the article states that the project is fifteen years in the making, I am still impressed with what its creator have managed to include. I hope that I may be able to return to my native state of New York to see the installation while it is in Brooklyn.

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