On a cold, rainy February morning in Athens, I sat in a small meeting room at the Melissa Network Center with my fellow participants for the workshop organised by the ICOM International Committee for the Collections and Activities of Museums of Cities (CAMOC). We spoke, mostly through translators, with a small group of women refugees from a handful of different countries. After a day of discussing how our respective museums are addressing migration and hearing from NGO representatives in Greece providing services for refugees, on that day, we were trying to understand the personal journeys of the women we met with.
Why did they leave the places they came from? What have their experiences been since then? How did their day-to-day lives in Greece look like? And what were their goals and hopes for the future? Most of the questions and responses had followed this trajectory of inquiry, until one of my colleagues probed in a hopeful tone: “Would you like to go to a museum?”.
To get to the conference, I, an American citizen of immigrant origin, had left the United States en route to Greece on the day of the executive order banning nationals of seven countries from entering the United States. After landing at my stopover destination, I refreshed my social media feeds, to see images of protests at many American airports with thousands rallying against the #muslimban and offering legal help. The juxtaposition of those protests and the stories we were hearing at Melissa that day underscored the urgency of each of us and our institutions stretching ourselves to do what we could to make the situation better.