If there was ever a right time and a right place for the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance to come into its own, it is now.  A tumultuous and divisive period in global politics has thrust the spotlight firmly on issues of human rights and institutional discrimination.

Australia has joined the Human Rights Council with a mandate to promote ‘gender equality, freedom of expression, good governance and robust democratic institutions, human rights for indigenous peoples and strong national human rights institutions’ and the UN is preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December.

The first two weeks of 2018 have highlighted just how important it is to have individuals and institutions prepared to stand up for the kind of cohesive, racially and religiously tolerance society that many of us wish for. In Australia, the government and the media whipped up controversy around the issue of African ‘gang’ violence in Australia, igniting a social media storm between supporters of the anti-immigration agenda and those springing to the defence of a small and much persecuted community.  In Britain, global fashion chain H&M have retracted an advertising campaign featuring a small black boy wearing a hoodie with the words ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’; in Europe, the first migrant deaths of the year have occurred, with a refugee boat from Libya sinking in the Mediterranean; and in the United States, President Trump has ignited fury with his most recent comments on immigration, causing UN Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville (amongst many other statements of recrimination) to comment:

“These are shocking and shameful comments from the President of the United States. There is no other word one can use but ‘racist’.  It’s about opening the door to humanity’s worst side, about validating and encouraging racism and xenophobia that will potentially disrupt and destroy lives of many people.”

It is heartening to maintain focus on the active citizens and institutions standing up against the prevailing climate of intolerance.  At every level of society, activism is becoming the order of the day.  Oprah Winfrey’s speech turned this year’s Golden Globes into a rally against institutional discrimination, and was followed by Emma Watson’s selection of Reni Eddo Lodge’s book ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’ as the January read for her hugely popular online book club, to whom she wrote an open letter saying:

“It would have been more useful to spend the time asking myself questions like: What are the ways I have benefited from being white? In what ways do I support and uphold a system that is structurally racist? How do my race, class and gender affect my perspective?

There is no quick fix to tackle the levels of racism and intolerance we are seeing in the world today, but there is power in conversation, through the political process, through pop culture and the arts and the grassroots.

We believe that museums have an active role to play as social change agents, as curators of conversation at every level of society, internationally and locally.  It is our mission to create a safe space for our community to share stories with each other, stories of our first peoples and of our migrant communities, many of whom are yet to reconcile traumatic pasts resulting from a vast catalogue of discrimination; and to activate these stories in the service of lasting change.

In 2018, the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance will encourage and enable important conversations, through our program of activities including a Symposium on difficult storytelling, the creation of an arts program and the development of partnerships and a hub of collective impact.  We believe every conversation has the opportunity to make a difference, to transcend a stereotype, to learn about and practice tolerance.