This week, The Sixth Floor Museum partnered with our friends at 29 Pieces for a teacher workshop on respect and presidential elections. 29 Pieces took the educators through their Respect Project lesson and even gave the teachers a chance to participate in the Respect Art Project, which will place 25,000 pieces of art about compassion and respect around Dallas during the 2016 election season. We sat down with Karen Blessen, founder of 29 Pieces, to talk about our partnership and an exciting upcoming project.
Q: Can you tell me a little about the workshop today?
A: Today at The Sixth Floor Museum, we are doing a workshop on the Dallas Respect Project. We are going to ask everyone to take the lesson back to their classes and do it with their kids. They will create circular posters on the theme of respect and compassion, and then we’ll ask them to take their artwork out into the community and display it starting September 16, so the whole city is covered with these messages about respect and compassion.
Q: Why do you think respect and compassion is so important to talk about with both students and teachers, especially now?
A: Well, they are always important. At this moment in time, there are so many emotions igniting and there are so many discussions going on, whether it’s along racial lines, religious lines, whether it’s about immigration or gender. There are so many thoughts about me versus them. One of the ways to unite is to learn to respect each other. And by respect, I don’t mean like what your mother used to say, you have to respect me, I mean listening to each other, being open to take it in.
Q: Why did you decide to partner with the Museum?
A: There’s a really deep reason that we make such great partners, with the Dallas Love Project and now with the Respect Project and the Pulitzer Centennial event in September. At the core of each of our organizations is a tragic event. Of course the Kennedy assassination for the Museum, which rocked the whole world. For 29 Pieces, it was a young man who was shot and killed in front of my home in Lakewood in August of 2000. It was a senseless killing over an attempted carjacking that barely got any media attention. So it didn’t rock the whole world, but it rocked the world of all the people who knew the victim, the shooter and the people in my neighborhood. I think both of our organizations exist as ways to confront, talk about, deal with tragedy and try to make it a less violent and more peaceful world.
Q: You mentioned our joint event in September. Tell us a little about that.
A: On September 21, International Day of Peace, The Sixth Floor Museum and 29 Pieces will be coming together to host a panel discussion with some of the most decorated combat photographers alive, and it will be part of the Pulitzer Centennial. We will have five Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers and one photographer from Israel who won an international womens photography award. We’re coming together to talk about the illusion and disillusion of war, and we’re honoring these photographers who have witnessed this and ask them why they put themselves in harm’s way, what has it done to them, what effect it’s had on their own lives and what wisdom they’ve gleaned from their experiences that they can share.
Q: Why photographers?
A: They are so willing and so courageous in a way that I could never be. They’re willing to into the volcano to really make all of us see what’s going on in the world. They’re living witnesses to what we maybe never would see or want to see, unless they make us. They’re telling the story, which is part of both of our missions as well.
Q: Why is it important for our organizations like ours to come together to work on projects like these?
A: I think it’s really important that organizations come together to work on topical projects because there’s a strength in joining forces. It displays a unity publicly, it’s not just one of us that’s concerned about these issues, it’s all of us. Just that demonstration is a powerful statement.
Stay tuned to JFK.org/events for more information about our International Day of Peace event!
For our new exhibit A Time For Greatness, The 1960 Kennedy Campaign, we’re getting talkative! Join members of our curatorial staff every other Friday at noon throughout the summer and fall for 30-minute informal Gallery Talks related to our exhibit. Talks are free with Museum admission or $5 if you just want to come for the talk and to see the exhibit. We kick off the series this Friday with Highlights from A Time For Greatness. Here are all the topics we’ll cover in our series:
Highlights from A Time for Greatness
June 10, June 23, July 22, September 30
Photographs and artifacts tell unique and sometimes surprising stories. Join our collections staff inside our new temporary exhibit as we highlight our favorite—and most interesting—objects and images from the 1960 campaign, including materials from Senator Kennedy’s visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in September 1960.
When LBJ and Lady Bird Came to Dallas in 1960
July 8, September 16
In the final days of the 1960 campaign, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird were accosted by demonstrators while visiting Dallas. This incident gained national media attention at the time, and it would return immediately after the assassination in 1963 as a powerful example of the city’s volatile political atmosphere. Through photographs, newspaper accounts, and Museum oral histories, we will explore this extraordinary encounter at the Adolphus Hotel on November 4, 1960—the myth and the reality—and the long-term impact that this incident had on the public perception of Dallas, Texas.
1960 Campaign Wives
August 5, October 14
Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Kennedy both supported their husbands as they campaigned for president but did so in very different ways. Mrs. Nixon accompanied her husband everywhere and he referred to her in almost every speech. Mrs. Kennedy hated campaigning and avoided it when possible – aided in part by her pregnancy. We will explore these two unique women and their personalities through film clips from the campaign trail as well as 1960 magazines and photographs from the Museum’s collections.
Coffee with the Curators
August 19, November 11
There is much more to the story of the 1960 campaign than we were able to tell in our A Time for Greatness exhibit. Join our curatorial staff for an informal question-and-answer session as we explore many of the topics touched on in the exhibit as well as new areas that our audience would like to discuss.
PT-109 and the 1960 Campaign
September 2, October 28
On August 2, 1943, Lt. John F. Kennedy’s motor torpedo boat PT-109 was sunk in the Pacific Theater. Kennedy, clenching a life jacket strap between his teeth to tow one injured crewmember, swam for four hours to lead survivors to a nearby island. This dramatic tale of World War II heroism framed Senator Kennedy’s political narrative as he ran for president in 1960. We will discuss the impact that the PT-109 story had on Kennedy’s life and career, including a special screening of a five-minute 1960 campaign commercial hosted by actor Henry Fonda.
To officially open our new exhibit, A Time For Greatness: The 1960 Kennedy Campaign, this week we brought in noted presidential historian David Pietrusza, author of 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon, along with several other books about notable presidential campaigns.
You’ve written several books about presidential electoral history. What intrigued you most about 1960?
You have these three guys that everybody knows, Kennedy, Nixon & Johnson, that were so different from each other & they all mean so much to people today. These guys have shaped our entire lives.
Your book talks about all 3 candidates from the 1960 election. Without getting into the actual politics, do you see any parallels with candidates from this year’s election?
Our candidates this year are clearly…unparalleled. She wouldn’t like the comparison, but in a way, Hillary is a little like Nixon. She comes back from adversity. But as for Trump…no, no comparisons. There’s no one like him.
Having researched so many presidents, what makes Kennedy stand out? Why is he so memorable?
He’s martyred, first of all. That certainly cements him in our memory. He’s also incredibly charming and glib and smart and photogenic. His father worked in Hollywood, he’d been to Hollywood, he saw how stars are made. He was our greatest star president in terms of persona.
What advice would you give young historians?
Read, read a lot. Go to YouTube and go watch old documentaries. Go past the cat videos and all that and go for the good stuff. There’s so many old documentaries that are so fantastic, like Project XX or Robert Ryan’s CBS documentary on World War I. Keep reading and watching and you’ll start connecting the dots for yourself, and that’s where the fun really begins.
Your favorite president ever?
I think it’s Calvin Coolidge. I like his style and his accomplishments. I was always very shy as a child and even now. You get me going on history and I’ll talk your ear off, but aside from that, I understand what Coolidge had to go through to get elected. When I started knocking on doors to get elected to City Council, I learned it’s very hard to do that and to offer yourself up without selling out your values. I think he did that. He presented himself in a way that generated trust. There’s something to be said about integrity.
A Time For Greatness is open through November 13. Learn more at JFK.org/ATimeForGreatness.