"Culture is about eliminating boundaries," explains Tony Award winning playwright and director, George C. Wolfe. Wolfe's latest artistic venture was actually off the stage. He served as the Chief Creative Officer for the civil rights gallery at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. The Center is celebrating its grand opening this week in downtown Atlanta.
This is historic for Atlanta, the home of civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ambassador Andrew Young. Despite the city's rich history, The Center is the first civil rights museum in Atlanta. It's also one of the only global human rights museums in the country.
Wolfe says his ambition in helping create the civil rights museum experience was to "Try to use the visceral potency of theatre, the intimacy of what documentary film can do in terms of revealing a subject and the intellectual rigor of a traditional museum to tell the story of the American civil rights movement." His goal was to tell the story in a way that it would matter to everyone, not only people whom directly lived it, but also the younger generation today. Wolfe certainly reached his goal. Everyone I have seen walk through The Center this opening week -- young, old, black, white, religious, non-religious -- has been either moved to tears or exhilarated to goose bumps.
The Center's Design Team: David Rockwell, George C. Wolfe, Phil Freelon and Doug Shipman and Shirley Franklin.
The Center's mission is to empower people to take the protection of every human's rights personally. Wolfe executed that mission by making the civil rights exhibit inspiring and engaging. As you walk through the history, you are invited to take part in it: changing the channels on the 50s TV sets, flipping through the boards of Jim Crow laws, choosing which songs to listen to from the March on Washington, sitting at a lunch counter to see and feel what it was like to stand up for yourself. Visitors are really brought inside the emotions of the time, which will hopefully help them remember and also take action on the human rights issues of our day as they walk up the stairs to our current problems where they can become part of the solution.
Music, film and art have always been at the heart of human and civil rights movements. Peter Yarrow from the popular civil rights movement band Peter, Paul and Mary says, "When people sing together, community is created. Together we rejoice, we celebrate, we mourn and we comfort each other. Through music, we reach each other's hearts and souls. Music allows us to find a connection." Wolfe expands on this idea. "We trust art instinctively," he explains, "music makes you surrender, films are so much larger than life that you sit back to watch them, you respond to the rhythm of a speaker's cadence." He believes that "anytime we are in the presence of well done art, it creates a childlike wonder in us that helps us attach to a story or a social need, it captivates us and we want to know and do more."
At this week's opening, The Center's CEO and president Doug Shipman said, "At the end of the day, The Center will be measured by the people who will change the trajectory of their lives -- and the lives of others -- to become the next Gandhi, the next King, the next Mandela that the world needs today." So, Huffington Post friends, let's live up to this calling and to Gandhi's famous saying: "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
Center for Civil and Human Rights opening day celebration.
Photos courtesy The Center for Civil and Human Rights (J Glenn Photography).
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Creative Visions Foundation. Personal opinion of the author only. More at www.erinbernhardt.com.