On May 29, the Orange County Regional History Center marked the fifth anniversary of Pulse with the opening of Community: Five Years After the Pulse Tragedy. The multimedia exhibition tells the story of the tragic events and aftermath of June 12, 2016, plus the powerful stories of the club and the lives that were lost there. The exhibition includes video from families and loved ones of the Pulse victims, tokens and tributes from memorials and marches, and even the white piano from inside the nightclub. The stories presented are cathartic and compassionate all at once, and a powerful exercise in living history. Orlando Weekly spoke to History Center Executive Director and curator Pamela Schwartz about the work that went into this exhibit, reactions to it and the concept of "community" in post-Pulse Orlando.
As a reminder, admission to the History Center is free through June 13, to allow as many people as possible to view the exhibition, and the memorial crosses will be available for public viewing from June 11-13. The Community: Five Years After the Pulse Tragedy exhibit will be on display through Aug. 15.
- photo courtesy of the History Center
Can you talk a little bit about the concept of community, and the way it is explored in the exhibit?
Each year since the Pulse shooting, the History Center has done an annual remembrance and each year we've wanted to view it through a different lens and tell the story through different artifacts and different things. So this year ... sometimes we can spend an hour coming up with themes and an hour coming up with titles, and this year it came really quickly to us: this idea of community and looking at that in several different ways.
So you have the community that existed at Pulse, and because of Pulse, prior to the shooting. That's where the exhibition really starts, looking at the community that was already here. Then after the shooting, looking at the different communities that formed. The sense of community grew, both geographically and demographically. It looks at the love and support that was coming from across the globe, and how different people found themselves being supported by and supporting people who they perhaps otherwise never would have met in this community. So it really focuses on the community and family that Pulse was before, and how we all really came together much more tightly after the event.
Tell me about gathering the oral histories that are included as part of this.
We've been doing those on an ongoing basis for five years. We do them with those most closely impacted stakeholders but also community members further at large. We've also done oral histories of people in other states and other countries, based on what they were doing in their community — either hosting a vigil or helping to put on a remembrance for Pulse at the New York City Pride Parade and things like that. This is really a global story.
This year we have some clips that we put in, footage of partying in the club prior to the night of shooting. So the idea is that people get a little bit of a feeling for what Pulse was for people who never had the opportunity to go there. It gives this sense of the fun and the love and everything that was happening there and it's combined with clips of people who used to go there, people who worked there. It's really incredible.
Another place people have been spending a lot of time in the exhibition is a screen where we feature the families ... we have a screen where we feature clips from families and friends of those who were killed. And they're not talking about that night and they're not talking about the aftermath, but talking about who their loved ones were before this happened to them. It's about their love, their legacy, their life before. These are really beautiful clips and you really start to get a sense and a feel for more than just the name and the photo of these individuals that we're all so used to seeing.
It's an important point, to not just reduce Pulse to the site of a shooting — and the victims each have a full, vibrant life story ...
And many different people who loved them. That's really the thing, so who better to hear from than the people that loved them and can tell those stories?
It's beautiful and poignant to hear them talk about those people. You can feel it in their voices, speaking about them, how much they care for them, how much they love them and say how much they miss them.
Can you talk about the work putting this together? It must have been overwhelming.
I think that's something that carries for us each year, how important we know this is and how deeply we want to make it right for our community and we want to do it right. This exhibit is different than any other exhibit every single year, because it means so much to our community. When history museums do exhibitions, it's like, "I'm going to go learn about something in the past." This is, "I'm going to learn about something, and I'm going to see something that I recognize that I was a part of." And that's different, when museums are exhibiting current and contemporary history because the people coming know the story. They were in that photo on the wall in line to give blood.
So for us it holds a greater level of priority and responsibility to make sure that these exhibits are perfect as best we can, and to make sure that we are ultimately serving a purpose for our community to have a space and a place to go and feel safe and to mourn and to heal and to learn and to revisit those early days of the memorials. And remember, always remember.