You Can't Count if You're Not Counted: Exhibition Explores Census in NYC, Supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Around four years ago, when the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) began considering an exhibition exploring the census, the 2020 decennial count had not yet become an explosive, headline-making political issue. But for Joe Salvo, New York’s chief demographer, the importance of getting a full and fair count “was already weighing very heavily on his mind,” says Sarah Henry, the deputy director and chief curator at MCNY. Henry’s conversations with Salvo about the census began while he was a consultant on MCNY’s immersive Future City Lab, a permanent exhibition deploying animated maps as a way to understand New York and its inhabitants.
As the 2020 count approached, “The need to talk about data and why the census matters became more urgent,” says Henry. Accurate numbers—and a share of the billions in federal funding that comes with them—would be critical to New York’s future. With so much at stake, “we thought about what role we can play as a museum to make this important act of civic participation compelling and interesting to the public,” Henry explains.
The resulting exhibition is Who We Are: Visualizing New York by the Numbers. Supported by a $150,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Who We Are opens November 22 and runs through July 2020, encompassing the census counting period. Designed by Brooklyn-based firm Isometric, the exhibition will feel like an immersive, multimedia installation. Data visualizations, interactive digital experiences, and physical objects including works of art and historical documents will explain the origins and staggeringly complex mechanics of this constitutionally mandated population count and its attendant debates, controversies, and political uses...