Wing Luke Museum closes after employees walk out in protest of ‘Hate’ exhibit

May 25, 2024, 4:30 PM | Updated: May 27, 2024, 10:04 am

Image: Hundreds gather at Seattle's Wing Luke Museum to ring in the Lunar New Year in 2023....

Hundreds gather at Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum to ring in the Lunar New Year in 2023. (Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

About two dozen employees of Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum staged a walkout Wednesday to protest an exhibition that was set to begin its run that day.

“Confronting Hate Together,” an exhibit that explores anti-Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander hate, Black hate and anti-Jewish hate, according to the museum’s website, was supposed to run from Wednesday through June 30. (A PDF of a press release providing information about the exhibit can be found here.)

“Confronting Hate” is a collaboration between The Black Heritage Society of Washington State, The Washington State Jewish Historical Society, and the Wing Luke Museum, which focuses on the culture, art and history of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, its website states.

Looking at the Wing Luke employees’ demands

But, as The Seattle Times noted in its coverage, the Wing Luke staff members walked out in protest of the exhibit, saying in a social media post that a portion of the exhibit “shares perspectives from the The Washington State Jewish Historical Society that conflate anti-Zionism as antisemitism.” That same slide in the post added, “Despite making a revision after learning of the staff’s concerns (after the May 14 media preview of the exhibit), the edits made still conveyed Zionist perspectives.”

One of the post’s slides clearly outlines the staff members’ four demands:

  • “Remove any language in any Wing Luke Museum publication and question any partnerships that attempt to frame Palestinian liberation and anti-Zionism as antisemitism.”
  • “Acknowledge the limited perspectives presented in this exhibition. Missing perspectives include those of namely those of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslim communities …”
  • Engage in a “community review” of the exhibit.
  • “Center voices and perspectives that align with the museum’s mission & values by platforming community stories within an anti-colonial, anti-white supremacist framework.”

The social media posts state 26 members of the Wing Luke staff signed a letter outlining their demands to leadership. But the posts did not confirm all 26 people walked off the job, noting that “a collective” of staff walked out in protest of the exhibit’s unchanged text.

Response to the Wing Luke Museum walkout

The number of employees was still high enough to cause the closure of the museum and the website’s homepage confirms it is currently not open as a statement popups explaining its side of the situation.

“On Wednesday, May 22, members of Wing Luke Museum’s staff held a respectful walk-out in protest of content on display in a new exhibit,” the statement begins.

It goes on to say it supports the rights of its staff “to express their beliefs and personal truths” and that it sought to engage in dialogue with its staff.

As an organization rooted in dialogue, we acknowledge and support the right of our staff to express their beliefs and personal truths and to this end, we are holding space for a careful and thoughtful process of listening with intent to hear multiple perspectives in pursuit of a mutual way forward.

After closing the Museum this week to listen and earnestly engage in dialog with our staff, the Museum looks forward to opening our doors at a future date so that we can continue serving our community in other needed capacities during this time. Please look for updates from us.”

The statement was also posted on its Facebook and Instagram pages Friday. A reopening date has not yet been set.

Steve McLean, director of communications for the museum, told the Times it has been working with its staff  “to address their calls to action” and their four demands. He added that programs were and are being developed so other communities, including Arab American communities, are represented.

The press statement about the exhibit earlier this month states that this “Confronting Hate” exhibit is inspired by the 2022 exhibit Confronting Hate 1937-1952, which was curated by the New-York Historical Society. But this Pacific Northwest exhibition “portrays a searing contemporary portrayal of racism, antisemitism, hate and bigotry through a local lens,” the statement reads.

“Emphasis will be on the distinct stories, perspective and history of this region – driven by a singular objective to educate communities and empower them to combat the rising tide of hate and racial violence in our communities today,” the statement adds.

Lisa Kranseler, executive director of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, also spoke to the Times and explained the intention of this version of the exhibit was to show how Black, Jewish and Asian American communities came together around redlining.

“It never was intended to exclude anyone,” she told the Seattle outlet. “It was always intended as a beginning conversation and to inspire all groups to put on exhibits and have dialogues and conversations.”

Steve Coogan is the lead editor of MyNorthwest. You can read more of his stories here. Follow Steve on X, or email him here.

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Wing Luke Museum closes after employees walk out in protest of ‘Hate’ exhibit