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Curating Pulse Memorial Items, Three Years On

The temporary memorial at the site of the Pulse nightclub. Photo : Matthew Peddie, WMFE
The temporary memorial at the site of the Pulse nightclub. Photo : Matthew Peddie, WMFE

This Wednesday marks three years since the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people and injured more than 50. In the aftermath of the shooting, the Orange County Regional History Center began collecting the hundreds of memorial items left at the site of the nightclub and other makeshift memorial sites around the city. 

The history center’s chief curator Pam Schwartz says the work of collecting and curating those memorial items continues. She says there are now more than 10,000 items in the collection. 

"The stories are changing, people have had time to reflect on the event itself," says Schwartz.

"The vocabulary and the place our community is at and it's healing has changed as well," says Schwartz, adding that the history center has tried to reflect that in the exhibition.

"We still have a few staff members who are entirely dedicated to the Pulse project, so we have a registrar, and part of that registrar's position is still cataloging, cleaning, preserving and housing these items."

Schwartz says although many cities have experienced traumatic events like the Pulse shooting, there's no 'one size fits all' response for history centers and other cultural institutions.

Still, she and her staff are working on a "a rapid response guide" to send to other cities.

"The idea is that, this is not a "one size fits all", but it is a "food for thought" guide, where... if this happens in city X, we can send them something and say, these are the things that we did, these are the issues we came up against, these are some things you might want to consider," she says.

Schwartz says it's also important to keep the mental well-being of history center staff in mind.

"This is very traumatic for staff working on it, because it means very much to those of us who preserve local history and are now living through the collection of it."

Love Speaks: Artistic Responses to the Pulse Nightclub Tragedy is on exhibition through Sept. 22. Admission to the History Center is free from June 8 – 16 to allow the entire community to experience the exhibition.