Watkins Museum to reopen to the public Tuesday with exhibit ‘very relevant for today’
photo by: Chris Conde
The Watkins Museum of History is set to reopen Tuesday with five exhibits, one of which the museum describes as especially “relevant for today.”
“Days of Rage: The 1970 Curfew” is part of the museum’s Lawrence 1970 Project and will focus on the brief period in 1970 when Lawrence was placed under a curfew because of arson, bomb threats and other violence.
Will Hickox, the museum’s public engagement coordinator, said the exhibit describes the various movements occurring at the time of the curfew, such as the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, the hippie counterculture movement and more. While focusing on the three days Lawrence was under curfew, the exhibit also examines “that whole spring and summer of unrest,” Hickox said. It touches on the burning of the Kansas Union, the early ending of the University of Kansas’ spring semester and the shootings in July that claimed the lives of Rick “Tiger” Dowdell and Harry “Nick” Rice.
Dowdell was a Black 19-year-old who was killed on July 16 by a police officer’s bullet, and Rice was a white 18-year-old who died four nights later during a chaotic encounter between police and a crowd along Oread Avenue. A report from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation was inconclusive on whether Rice died from a police officer’s bullet.
“The exhibit is relevant because we’re facing a somewhat similar situation today,” Hickox said, mentioning COVID-19, political strife and the uncertainty of the future. “I think history can really help us set a path forward that really helps us to become a body of people who can talk with each other and avoid violence.”
The museum will be reopening with new guidelines. The building at 1047 Massachusetts St. will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and only eight visitors will be allowed in the museum at one time. Admission will continue to be free, but visitors must reserve a spot in advance of arriving at the museum by calling 785-841-4109 or filling out a form on the museum’s website.
Visitors are asked to wear masks; a limited quantity of masks will be available to those who do not have them. Visitors will be given pencils so that they can engage with the touch screens.
Four other exhibits are on display at the museum, many of which have been extended. These are “Freedom Day: The History of Juneteenth,” “Community in Motion: Dog Days, Past and Present,” “Electrifying Lawrence: Building a Modern City” and “Let’s Dance: Lawrence’s History in Galas and Gatherings.”
The Watkins Museum received a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for $76,495, one of only two Kansas institutions to receive grants. That money, Hickox said, will go toward reinventing the museum in this time of social distancing by providing more online content and programming, a permanent outdoor exhibit and more.