Arts & Events

Past in the present: two revealing exhibitions at the Washington State History Museum

By Evan Welsh

Good museum exhibits teach us about our history while also being relevant to our current lives. Two new exhibitions at the Washington State History Museum speak to the state’s past on subjects that have become increasingly more relevant to citizens over the past few years.

The newest exhibit, “Glasnost & Goodwill: Citizen Diplomacy in the Northwest” tells the story of Washington State citizens’ diplomatic relationships with the Soviet Union over the 20th century. Cold War anxieties loomed large for a great period of time during the 20th century and have seemingly reemerged in the past five years or so. This exhibit looks to examine Washington’s relationship to the Soviet Union and the citizen-led attempts to help find peace and understanding during the Cold War era.

“Washington has this incredible history of everyday citizens and state representatives reaching out and trying to bring peace during the Cold War,” Gwen Whiting, lead curator at The Washington State History Museum, said.

Patrons of the exhibit are taken through Washington’s historical relations to the Soviet Union through time, beginning with overviews of the Cold War and the Soviet Union. The exhibit moves from these introductions all the way to the Seattle-hosted Goodwill Games of 1990 and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Goodwill Games was an event created by CNN founder Ted Turner and television producer and former Seattle Supersonics executive Bob Walsh to help bring divided countries closer together through sport and art. The first Goodwill Games were held in Moscow in 1986 and every four years after until 2001.

The artifacts displayed in “Glasnost & Goodwill” range from Alaska Air flight attendant uniforms to the napkin on which the initial financial logistics for the Goodwill Games were written. Including bottles of vodka and model bridges, the artifacts in this collection shine a light on various aspects of the Washingtonian-Soviet relationship during the 60-year time span the exhibit covers.

As patrons get to the end of “Glasnost & Goodwill,” they enter another newly-opened exhibit, “Loyal Opposition: The Protest Photos of George P. Hickey.” Hickey has made a career of attending and capturing protests in Seattle. The photos display the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests, animal rights protests, Pride and more.
“Protest is street theater — document the signs, document the way people express themselves through their clothes and through their costumes,” Hickey said. Protesters express themselves in theatrical fashions to attempt to get their voices and opinions heard. Hickey feels the people who are willing to organize and protest are worthy of being recorded. He uses his camera to display the people behind the protests.

Both of these exhibits place active citizens at the forefront. In diplomacy and protest, the stories told in these exhibits are about citizens who take it into their own hands to attempt to create the change they would like to see.

The stories of the past also feel relevant to the American society we are currently surrounded by. The past six months have been filled with many protests, some unfortunately ending less peacefully than others. In recent years, and specifically over the past year and a half, it has felt like the tension with Russia has been building up. These new exhibits and the stories they tell are worth seeing, not only to learn about the past, but to study and apply the best course of action to improve our world in the present. The advice presented to Washington museum-goers by both exhibits is this: organize and act.

“Glasnost & Goodwill” and “Loyal Opposition” are open now and run until Jan. 21 and Dec. 3, respectively. Head down to the Washington State History Museum and see how our past still pertains to our present.