The National Museum of Animals and Society (NMAS) celebrated the opening of its new exhibit, We Animals, the photography of Jo-Anne McArthur, with a gala party on its premises in East Hollywood.
All kinds of animal lovers came to partake in the festivities - activists and advocates both seasoned and new. All were curious and deeply concerned about the role and treatment of animals.
Jo-Anne McArthur, a Canadian who looks all of 18, has been shooting important and award-winning photography for over ten years.
Her exhibit features over 50 photographs she had taken of animals in various situations from countries all over the world. There are captive animals, farm animals and animals in many situations that were painful to see.
There are also joyful pictures of animals who were rescued from those situations and the humans who helped them.
Her work has been used by some of the animal activist icons such as Sea Shepherd and the Jane GoodallInstitute. Not only has she been recognized by hundreds of animal organizations for her contributions, but also HuffPost Women has named her one of "the top ten women trying to change the world."
She also was signing her companion book of photography, We Animals. Her publisher, Martin Rowe, was so inspired by her work that he wrote his own book about one of her photos, Polar Bear In The Zoo.
Rowe told the story of how he became interested, then was able to publish her work through an Internet fund drive.
Along with the photos, the audience saw several short videos.
Some of the photos featured bears who were trapped in the "bear bile" farming industry in China and VietNam. Bear bile is an extract from the bears' vital organs that some people believe has medicinal uses. Ray Zhu from AnimalsAsia spoke about tthe horrors this industry in which over 12,000 bears are still trapped. They live in tiny cages their whole lives, miserable and sick, and are “milked” for their bile.
AnimalsAsia and other organizations have been successful at enlightening the public in Asia and getting much of the bile farming shut down. They are working tirelessly until it is all stopped.
Several people brought their rescue dogs as companions, and the canines seemed to have just as much fun as the humans.
Vegan appetizers and drinks were served on the gallery's small back patio, along with a big chocolate cake.
At times the patio got crowded, but no one seemed to mind, as all of us were busy eating, drinking and making new friends.
As the evening progressed, we were joined by two Korean dogs, Gracie and Hyung. These dogs were rescued from a butcher shop and had been just flown in to LAX. They were saved from the meat market in South Korea by activists including Robin Dorman, the International Animal Protection Campaign Director of In Defense of Animals.
Gracie and Hyung had a stopover in Los Angeles to help them decompress after their life trauma and the long flight. In a few days they will continue their trip to the East Coast and into the homes of their new adoptive parents. These poor, stressed creatures could barely stand, and Hyung was too frightened to leave her crate. According to Dorman, there are many activists both local and international in South Korea trying to stop this atrocity of an industry.
The activists are fighting two major myths in getting the dog and cat meat trade abolished. The first myth is that there are two types of dogs - those for companionship and those for food (when, in fact, no dogs are safe); and, second, that dog meat is a health food (when in truth the poor dogs on farms are fed only contaminated and rotting scraps from human leftover food that contains human saliva capable of transmitting infectious diseases).
Other museum-goers were sharing information with each other about their work on a wide variety of issues. Their initiatives range from getting L.A. County to contribute to spay and neuter, to stopping vivisection, to passing laws to protect endangered species.Among its other functions, the National Museum of Animals and Society is a real meetingplace for like-minded people from diverse backgrounds who have their love of animals in common.
Co-sponsoring the museum are some of the large national animal advocacy organizations. Many of these organizations have offices in Los Angeles and have varied campaigns and approaches. The sponsors include: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Animals Asia and VegFund, to name a few. The museum is a way for them to share and help one another.
Carolyn Merino Mullin is the Founder and Executive Director of the National Museum of Animals and Society. Several years ago she envisioned this museum, the first of its kind. She realized that most other social movements - such as the civil rights movement and the labor movement - are well documented and have their own museums. Yet there was no comparable institution for memorializing the animal protection movement.There are, of course, the natural history museums with stuffed animals in displays, and there are zoos, which display living animals in cages. But Carolyn's unique vision has been to focus on the relationship between animals and people.
She ruminated on the idea and planned its realization for years, leaving her job at Farm Sanctuary to work at various museums, learning the professional skills of curating and exhibition.
Carolyn explains, “Today museums are no longer cabinets of curiosity – we recognize society has values. NMAS is a social institution, and we aim to express these values.” In promoting compassionate ethics and in examining our dynamic and evolving relationship with nonhuman animals, the museum celebrates the human-animal bond. "We recognize that this bond is easily broken, and we look at it and examine ways to revive and nurture it.”
This bond was an especially poignant theme in the museum’s opening exhibit, My Dog Is My Home, which examines the relationship between homeless people and their dogs.
As part of the display, the museum organized the largest service fair on Skid Row for the homeless and their pets which provided free grooming, medical care, food, and supplies. They are now working on a spay and neuter effort for low income families and for feral cat colonies in their East Hollywood neighborhood.
In the second hands-on program to deal with chickens, Uncooped, 93 hens were adopted as a result of the exhibit.
Carolyn has surrounded herself with a topnotch team of animal advocacy leaders, artists, writers, anthropologists and other scientists. With its state-of-the art exhibitions, along with scientific input, humane education and social involvement, this museum is destined to grow and become a monument to humane treatment of animals, and national treasure.
Ellen Lavinthal, who was working the door at the We Animals opening, is on the Board of Directors.A well-known and admired local animal advocate, she heads Animal Alliance and has been helping animals for over 20 years with outreach, education and fundraisers. She was one of the co-organizers of the Fur Free West Hollywood campaign, which proved both successful and inspirational. This campaign poised West Hollywood as the first city in the country to outlaw the sale of fur.Ellen is proud of the museum and sees it “not just preaching to the converted, but reaching out to the public to help them to understand and reevaluate their own relationships to animals.”
On May 2, 2014, a big party is in the works at the NMAS museum, the May Is For Elephants party, with food and entertainment. The We Animals exhibit will be in its last days, and the doors will be open to the public.May Is For Elephants will be a party to celebrate elephants and to launch a people’s petition to President Obama to ban all ivory commerce in the United States. Everyone who comes will be encouraged to sign the petition and make a pledge to get more people to sign in the month of May. Mayuka Thais will sing her haunting song, When Elephants Cry, as well as new releases. Katharine Kramer will sing Bless The Beasts and Children from the first animals rights movie of the same name, made by her famous father Stanley Kramer.
Georja Umano is an actress, writer and animal activist. Uncredited photos are by the author.
We Animals: Photography of Jo-Anne McArthur
National Museum of Animals and Society
4302 Melrose Avenue
Thursday – Sunday 11am to 6pm