History Untold: Witte Museum embarks on revisiting how history is portrayed

‘People’s Museum’ has ‘more work to do’ museum president, CEO says

SAN ANTONIO – The Witte Museum isn’t the only museum revisiting how it portrays history, judging by the theme of this week’s Texas Association of Museums Conference, “Unfinished Collectives: Telling Full Stories.”

“We want to make sure that as we’re telling the stories of Texas, we’re incorporating everyone who calls himself a Texan now,” said Michelle Everidge, Witte Museum’s chief of strategic initiatives. “Larger stories, more inclusive stories, even different stories, we’re talking about growing with the times.”

As an example, Marise McDermott, president and CEO of the Witte, said during the Black Lives Matter protests, the museum did what’s known as “rapid collection.”

She said among the items donated by Pharaoh Clark, one of San Antonio’s BLM leaders, was his familiar hat as well as the shoes he wore for the marches.

Witte Museum displays hat, shoes worn by San Antonio BLM leader Pharaoh Clark during local marches. (Witte Museum)

“The reality is we had to re-look at what we were about, and what we were about to become,” McDermott said.

The Witte has long prided itself in being known as “The People’s Museum,” McDermott said.

“Nonetheless, there’s so much more work to do,” she said.

The Witte has embarked on its mission by first creating prototype exhibitions, such as last year’s, “Black Cowboys: An American Story.”

Everidge said the exhibition now on tour showed how one out of four cowboys on the trail were Black.

The Witte’s latest exhibition, “Texas Art: Kinship and Culture,” isn’t so much about the artists.

“But, taking a look inside the paintings and seeing who’s represented,” Everidge said.

McDermott said, “If our children come to the museum and they don’t see themselves, we have failed. Then we need to look carefully at that, at what we show, what we display, how inclusive we are.”

The Witte’s newest exhibition in the works, “Texas Origins,” will try to bring a personal dimension to history.

“Otherwise, it’s not relevant to someone,” Everidge said.

Everidge said if they don’t see themselves, the histories will be less meaningful and little is learned.

“We can’t learn from a history we feel excluded from,” Everidge said. “Those are the reasons that we revise and we think about history in new ways so that every child feels like they belong.”

Everidge said the Witte is going out into the community to make sure they feel represented in its collections and exhibitions.

“We are engaging the community through our steering committee made up of community members and scholars, as well as focus groups with community members,” said Witte Museum spokesman Jonathan Miles.

He said visitors are welcome to share their stories on an iPad located in Texas Art exhibition, or they can email the Witte their stories, photos or video at stories@wittemuseum.org.

“Please do share what you know with the Witte Museum,” McDermott said.

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About the Authors

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

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