The news of the shooting at the Musée Juif de Belgique in Brussels on 24 May 2014 was sickening: the horror of realising that innocent people visiting, volunteering and working could be gunned down in a museum. Museums are sanctuaries of learning. They are safe places where we discover art and culture and share a common curious humanity.
For us at the Jewish Museum London it is doubly painful. We are trying to break down barriers, to celebrate multicultural Britain and Jewish history and culture. This shooting in Brussels reminds us that our visitors, volunteers and staff face an extra potential threat.
I don’t want our museum to be a fortress. I want people to feel welcomed and included. I want the building to be accessible to all, to be warm and inviting. I don’t want people’s first impression to be of heavy security, of suspicious questions and bag checks. But it’s a balance and I want to get it right.
Here at the Jewish Museum we face out to the wider public. We are a bridge between the Jewish and wider British community. Most of our visitors and school groups are not Jewish. Visiting us they learn about Jewish culture and history in Britain – a long, rich and vibrant history. Our temporary exhibitions reflect that richness of heritage. In the last year we have staged exhibitions about Kitaj, Amy Winehouse, football and the First World War, and we are about to open one about Abram Games.
Abram Games, son of Jewish immigrants, became one of the leading graphic designers of the 20th century. He designed iconic images for the BBC, during the Second World War, for the Festival of Britain and for the Jewish community. His story is an example of what we’re trying to say in all our work. His family sought safe haven here and then contributed hugely to the building of British society. He, like the Jewish Museum in London, straddled Jewish and British worlds. He was enriched and influenced by both and he enriched and created for both.
Come and see the exhibition. You’ll be safe and welcome. Come and celebrate with us and let’s not let the hatemongers who wish to terrorise us win.
Abigail Morris is the Chief Executive of the Jewish Museum London.