Meet the Smithsonian Curator Who Turns Protesters’ T-Shirts Into National Treasures


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Although 2020 isn't even halfway done yet, the worldwide health crisis and the global uprising over civil rights already guarantee that this year will be one historians study forevermore. As challenging as it will be to sort through such monumental events in hindsight, some institutions and individuals are doing an even more difficult job: preserving this history as it happens.

One person at the forefront of this effort is Aaron Bryant, a curator of photography, visual culture, and contemporary history at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bryant leads the institution's rapid-response collecting initiative, which seeks to secure the objects, images, and stories that will allow historians—and the public at large—to eventually make sense of the events that shaped American life in pivotal moments, including the tumultuous one we are living through right now.

On this week's episode of the Art Angle, Bryant joins Andrew Goldstein to discuss the historical importance of everyday people, how t-shirts and rakes can capture the essence of a major protest, and how this year's upheaval is similar to—and different from—previous chapters in American history.

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