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Occupy Wall Street becomes highly collectible

By Randy Herschaft

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 24 2011 2:16 p.m. MST

"This kind of social movement is probably more interesting to me, to be honest about it. And also so much of it is happening digitally. On webpages. On Twitter," said Sheila Brennan, the associate director of public projects. "I guess I didn't see as much of that with the tea party."

Curators and those in charge of collections at institutions said it was not too soon to think about preserving elements of the Occupy movement.

"We like to collect things as they are happening before the artifacts go away," said Esther Brumberg, senior curator of collections for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan.

Brumberg said the museum had approached "Occupy Judaism" co-organizer Daniel Sieradski about a poster he had done for a Yom Kippur prayer service for protesters at Zuccotti Park that drew hundreds of people. The poster shows the silhouetted fiddler image from the Jewish musical "Fiddler on the Roof" astride the Wall Street bull.

Sieradski said it made sense that his poster should end up in the museum's permanent collection.

"What I think is great is that they are actually looking to build their collection around contemporary American Jewish history and maybe broaden what their offerings are to the public so that they can tell a more complete story," he said.

While there are no immediate plans to use the poster in an exhibition, Brumberg called it "just one of a number of instances of Jewish activism" that they are interested in and are trying to collect.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History gave a similar explanation for sending staff to Zuccotti Square during the encampment, where they were spotted picking up materials. The museum said it was part of its tradition of documenting how Americans participate in a democracy. It declined to allow staff to be interviewed.

"Historians like to take the long view and see how things play out," said spokeswoman Valeska Hilbig in an email, adding that staff wouldn't feel "comfortable" discussing the protests until some time had passed.

Staff at the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory University set up a system to download and archive tweets about Occupy. So far, they have harvested more than 5 million tweets from more than 600,000 unique Twitter users. Ultimately the database will be made available to scholars, said Stewart Varner, the digital scholarship coordinator at the library.

The New York Public Library has added Occupy periodicals to its collection and is considering obtaining some protest ephemera.

And the Internet Archive, a massive online library of free digital books, audio and texts, has opened a mostly user-generated collection about the movement. As of Friday, the Occupy collection included more than 2,000 items, while its "Tea Party Movement" collection had fewer than 50.

Unlike other institutions focused only on collecting, the Museum of the City of New York is planning a photography exhibition on Occupy at its South Street Seaport Museum offshoot when it reopens in January.

Chief curator Sarah Henry said the museum will also include materials on the movement in a new gallery opening in the spring that focuses on social activism in New York City.

The New-York Historical Society has collected between 300 and 400 items from the movement, said Jean Ashton, the library director. Ashton recognized the contradiction inherent in an establishment institution collecting Occupy materials.

"There are probably people in Occupy Wall Street who the last thing they want is to have their materials in a library or museum somewhere," she said.

Roberts, the OWS member who is on the archives working group, said it was good that such institutions want to document the movement. However, she said they would prefer the institutions collaborate with the participants. "We know more about the movement and the stories behind the materials that have been collected," she said.

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Follow Cristian Salazar at twitter.com/crsalazarAP and Randy Herschaft at twitter.com/HerschaftAP

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