At the Museum of Tolerance, Holding a Mirror to Visitors’ Biases
LOS ANGELES — “The courage and morality of a society is always on trial, and in crisis it is tested to the limits,” said Liebe Geft, the director of the Museum of Tolerance.
These words have a particular resonance in today’s political culture, a climate for which the museum has been “preprogrammed,” Ms. Geft said.
The museum, which is decidedly apolitical and nonpartisan, uses animated walk-through exhibits, question-focused interactive media and docents trained to lead difficult conversations to bring attention to oppression and injustice worldwide.
“The entire approach here, in the way we train our guides and docents, in the way we introduce skilled and professional facilitators to all of our programs, is to be able to have those difficult discussions,” Ms. Geft said. “To look at those challenges to society, the fears that we have, to acknowledge the struggles — and they’re always there — they are intensified in this climate.”
The space here is not new, but its message and historical content seem particularly apt — both in the United States and abroad — with the decline of “political correctness” and an increase in crimes rooted in racism and xenophobia.
The exhibits integrate Holocaust narratives and other accounts of injustice with present-day stories of prejudice.
The museum is operated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights organization whose research focuses on the Holocaust and “hate in a historic and contemporary context,” according to its website.
Part of its mission will involve opening the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Since that city already has Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, that location will focus less on the Holocaust than on the 3,500-year history of the Jewish people, their resilience and their contributions to the world. It will also include the experiential elements featured in the original center.
While the Los Angeles museum is a popular destination for schoolchildren on field trips, the “Tools for Tolerance” classes it offers are a major draw for adults.
These professional development courses — attended by groups that include law enforcement personnel, health care providers, educators and corporate executives — focus on being more inclusive, combating implicit bias and improving community relations. Demand for the programs is high, and the number of people who can take them is limited by the amount of funding the center can raise.