Museology Master of Arts Program

November 13, 2019

Museums and Sanctuary Spaces: Staff responses to community crisis

Thesis by Gabrielle Friesen (2019)

Museums have traditionally articulated a role for themselves as a sanctuary space, albeit one for thoughts or learning, a sanctuary of the mind rather than the body. These two museum modes are coming to a head, at a time when many social safety nets are being stripped away or becoming more strained. Spaces that occupy similar positions of institutional trust, such as libraries and places of worship, are currently, and have historically, responded to the needs of the mind as well as the physical needs and safety of their communities. Museums are coming up against the same necessity to act, as their communities struggle in the face of traumatic events and crises. This study engages with the question of how museums can, in a rapid response way, create space that serves as a sanctuary in a physical, embodied manner for their surrounding communities’ post-crisis or trauma. This study draws on staff interviews and document analysis at museums that responded to their communities needs within a week of a traumatic event, such as fires, domestic terrorism, and hate crimes. In speaking with staff, museum’s reasons for responding, the nature of response, the internal tools that allowed that response to be successful are examined. In addition, the role community partnerships play in a successful response, and the internal and external shifts a museum undergoes after a rapid-response were studied. The findings will help inform the field in developing deeper community relationships, and in deciding whether an institution should develop its own rapid-response plan to community crisis.

Keywords: Class of 2019, community engagement, crisis, disaster preparedness, museum, museum studies, sanctuary, museology


Friesen, G., & Selvakumar, Meena. (2019). Museums and sanctuary spaces : Staff response to community crisis. Seattle]: University of Washington.