Published October 29, 2019

Why the opioid crisis?

By Cathy Ferree, President and CEO, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

Museums are a place to have big conversations about ways we can all influence the present and future. Museums should broaden perspectives through real stories and artifacts, and they should also address the topics of today that are relevant to visitors.

At the Indiana State Museum, we wanted to provide a place for our visitors to talk about a topic that can be shaming and isolating, and that affects every Hoosier: the opioid crisis. This crisis impacts all of us, but together, we can find hope in solutions.

Our exhibit, “FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis,” will allow visitors to do just that.

We are addressing the opioid crisis in an exhibit because it’s an issue that affects every single person in Indiana. It affects what prescriptions you might be offered after surgery, or pain management for your elderly parents. It of course affects those with opioid use disorder, and their loved ones.

As a statewide museum system with 12 locations, we are uniquely suited to tackle a topic with such universal reach. And while we have the exhibit in Indianapolis, programming at all 11 of our historic sites throughout and beyond 2020 will facilitate conversations within those communities as well.

Through this exhibit, visitors will learn about the science behind opioid use disorder, and how our brains are primed to crave substances. In video kiosks throughout the space, they will see people tell the true stories of their own experiences with the disorder. Interactive artwork will help visitors experience different artistic responses to the crisis, and photos from around the state by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bill Foley will show what recovery can look like.

Our primary goal with this exhibit is to reduce stigma – to show that opioid use disorder is a disease, and it’s something we all must address together. We have worked with more than 50 community partners around the state to compile trustworthy, relevant facts about this crisis, and to make sure we are telling stories of this crisis in as truthful a way as possible. This is not a topic we can tackle alone. Rather, it’s a topic that we as a community must address together, from all sectors.

By learning the background to the crisis and hearing personal stories, it’s our hope that visitors leave with a renewed sense of empathy – and that their empathy might drive them to do something about the crisis. An area with resources will provide visitors with information regarding where to get help or how to have a tough conversation with a loved one, and also provide ways that they can get involved in helping heal Indiana from this crisis.

This topic can be dark, but this exhibit isn’t, because there’s hope in how Hoosiers are already working together to address opioid use disorder. There is hope in how we can continue to work together in the future toward solutions.

At the Indiana State Museum, we want to work with our visitors to discover and encourage that hope.