Institutional Support and Resistance

While browsing the website of the History Truck, I was interested in the contradiction between the truck’s ideology and funding sources, a problem certainly not unique to it that plagues all non-profits. Currently in Philadelphia there is a huge campaign against Temple University’s new stadium which will further gentrify North Philadelphia. Community members and students are coming together to protest this, and I noticed that the truck held an event discussing the issue.

This is interesting because I wonder what the margins of acceptable opinion are for getting funding from Temple, and how the truck interacts with activist campaigns. Does it try to be non-partisan? This is kind of what the title and description suggests, but the free breakfast program folks are Black power activists and are included in this panel. I am curious as to what extent the non profit industrial complex impacts the truck and its actual ability to fulfill the mission of “Connecting neighbors who would have never built a relationship otherwise” and “Empower communities to work together to address issues within neighborhoods.” The truck seems like an inherently activist project according to its mission statement, but how that works in practice is always fraught. Can they directly support and tell the stories of anti-gentrification activists? How has gentrification affected the people who run the truck? A lot of times folks involved in historic preservation are also gentrifiers, as one can see in the history of Eastern State Penitentiary’s preservation. I am also interested in how the fire exhibit deals with the legacy of the MOVE bombing, and why they pick certain neighborhoods and subjects to visit and document.

The most interesting element of the truck for me is that it is a truck. Displaying history in motion is a really fascinating idea, because history moves and changes. In a museum environment it seems sterile and static. I also think the truck shows a real concern for the community, because by necessity it involves outreach and community relationships. It reminds me of library on wheels project, sort of. We talked a lot about the space of the archive, and how it changes the experience, but this is an even more dramatic space than Bob’s archive or the one I worked in. How do you tell stories in such a small space? How many people even fit into the truck? I can’t imagine too many, which makes it personal and intimate. Overall, the project seems really visionary and changes the experience of visiting a museum completely through both space and content, but I am skeptical of most non profits in practice and the truck is no exception.

2 thoughts on “Institutional Support and Resistance

  1. Julia, these are great questions, and ones we talked at length about with Erin at her studio (especially because the questions remain in her current location, Chinatown North). Erin noted that her relationship with TU has changed over time, in the ways that the University is supportive of her project when it makes news (such as her recent NCPH award) but does not engage with/promote the content. There’s much more to say, and I encourage you to keep following the Truck online!

  2. These are GREAT questions, and I am so glad you raised them. I would love to talk to you about it, but one thing to know is that the truck is now an autonomous project without an institutional home so that it can stand politically on specific issues related to historical content and community partners, which is to say, the Truck is (as a proletariat mobile museum) standing with community members and students against the stadium while keeping the door open to any and all public history students from Temple who may like to work on the project sometime.

    You are very insightful to question the nonprofit industrial complex, and I think about my complex needs for funding and the limits of my work based on this structure quite often.

    Keep in touch!
    Erin
    Phillyhistorytruck@gmail.com

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