A Diplomatic Life
A tear-stained blindfold from the Iranian hostage crisis. A sculpture made from the parts of a disabled nuclear warhead. A Kalashnikov filled with vodka. Come 2016, these artifacts and others will have a home at the brand new U.S. Diplomacy Center, a 15,000-square-foot transparent glass pavilion adjacent to the headquarters of the State Department.
Originally conceived by retired Ambassador Steven Low in 2000, the center will highlight and explain the triumphs, challenges, and day-to-day life of U.S. diplomats. While there are more than 400 museums associated with branches of the military, Low found that there were none touching on the Foreign Service. He set out with his friend retired Maryland Senator Charles Mathias to change that.
The State Department offered space, security, and personnel to curate artifacts and programming, but the funds to build and maintain the museum would need to come from private philanthropy. Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley, known as an ace political fundraiser, took the lead, and over four years the museum raised $38 million in private funding, enough to break ground. At the ceremony in September 2014, six living secretaries of state hoisted a shovel.
Exhibits highlighting how diplomacy affects everyday life in America will be unique to this museum. Corporations like Intel and Microsoft are contributing to displays that show how global commerce and diplomacy affect each other. A simulation room will allow student groups to step into the shoes of a diplomat and negotiate an important issue. No word yet on whether there will be a display of striped pants.
The Wide World of Music
Ever wanted to bang a gong the size of a living-room wall, or play a theremin, an electronic instrument that produces eerie tones activated by moving your hands around a pair of antennae without any touching? Look no further than MIM. The remarkable Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is the largest museum of its kind in the world, and became enormously popular with visitors almost as soon as it opened in 2010, quickly climbing to one of TripAdvisor’s top 25 museums in the U.S.
The brainchild of philanthropist and lead-donor, Target chairman and passionate music-lover Robert Ulrich, the $150 million facility includes 6,000 instruments from all over the world (or, in the case of the theremin, instruments that seem like they properly belong in space). Visitors can bang and strum away in the Experience Gallery, or check out self-playing instruments in the Mechanical Music Gallery. A 300-seat theater hosts concerts of all sorts, and a Conservation Lab shows how experts restore old and damaged instruments. A unique Geographical Gallery where visitors can “travel the world through the magic of music” especially appeals to Ulrich, who loves the idea of using music to explore the riotous cacophony of human cultures.
“It’s as though you’re taking your home theater and traveling to every country in the world,” he says. “It appeals to everyone,” of every demographic. “We may not follow a particular rock band, we may not play an instrument, but we all use music for all kinds of different things, whether it’s fun, or celebration, or a wedding, or consolation.” Music is “the language of the soul.”
Hoping to Remember the 100 Million
As the Berlin Wall cracked and then tumbled amidst stunned celebration, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later, historian Lee Edwards and economist Lev Dobriansky were already wondering: How would future generations interpret the momentous triumph of liberal democracy over communism? Would those who died in communist countries, and those who struggled to overturn totalitarian rule, be remembered?
A bipartisan initiative in the 1990s produced a modest memorial—a bronze replica of the “Goddess of Democracy” made famous by the students of Tiananmen Square. Websites were launched to begin historical documentation (VictimsofCommunism.org and theGulag.org). A high-school curriculum was released in 2013 to educate students and teachers about communism’s ideology, history, and legacy.
Now Edwards is leading an effort that hopes to raise $70 million to create a museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the victims of communism, featuring oral storytelling from witnesses who lived under communist rule. The museum foundation does not accept U.S. government funding (though governments of former communist countries may contribute—Hungary pledged $1 million), so it is individual donors who will decide whether a museum on communism rises to remember the 100 million people who died during 70 years of global experiments in collectivism.