Michigan Humanities partners with the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program to bring high-quality Smithsonian traveling exhibitions to Main Street museums, historical societies, and other small-town cultural venues across the country. The latest MoMS exhibit, Voices and Votes: Democracy in America, is coming to Michigan in 2021, and poses questions and historic content around America’s democratic system, voter representation, social justice, and more. Six host communities will have the opportunity to host the exhibit rent-free for six weeks.
We asked two MoMS partners to share their experience with us on bringing a Smithsonian exhibit to their community. Tom Burnosky, from Reed City Library, and Kay McAdams, from Van Buren District Library, hosted the MoMS exhibit Crossroads: Change in Rural America and give some insight on the rewards of being a host site and what it takes to create and share a Smithsonian exhibit at home.
How was the process of implementing a Museum on Main Street exhibit?
Tom Burnosky, Reed City Library: Really easy. We knew that we couldn’t successfully host the exhibit without the support of other anchor institutions. We talked to the city and the schools in the concept phase and they were enthusiastically on board.
Kay McAdams, Van Buren District Library: Collaborating with the Village, Board, public school, staff, general public, and volunteers was very rewarding. The actual construction of the exhibit when it arrived was a bit more challenging than we anticipated. What we thought would be a 4-hour project turned into more like a 6- to 7-hour project, but we gals got ‘er done!
What was the application process like?
TB: The application process was quick. We discovered the opportunity to apply with less than 30 days before the deadline. Our decision to move forward was, in part, due to the streamlined process.
KM: I appreciated a succinct application form: statistics, short answers, checklist, basic info. Nothing worse than having to come up with filler to accommodate an application’s request to answer a question “in 600 words,” when 200 is sufficient!
What was the community response to having a MoMS exhibit?
TB: We were new to MoMS and the exhibit/program scale is bigger than anything we’ve ever done. It has been a delight to see people coalesce around the planning, participation, and execution of the exhibit. Having the Smithsonian in our town has become an undeniable point of pride.
KM: Overall, the community was as excited to have the Smithsonian in town as we were to host the exhibit! We were thrilled how many people drove an hour or more just because they saw it mentioned in the paper, on the radio or in social media. Fellow librarians visited, the local Conservation District made it a group outing, numerous school groups came, and some people came more than once!
What was the best part of being a part of Museum on Main Street?
TB: Picking the best part is like trying to name your favorite ice cream flavor. We celebrated National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day at the exhibit, with vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and Superman scoops. It was a great way to get people out on a Saturday morning. MoMS and Michigan Humanities did an excellent job of making us look like great hosts. We met new colleagues and many good people who were involved in producing this exhibit.
KM: Showcasing the community and surrounding area. As the exhibit emphasizes, “rural” means different things to different people. It was enlightening to discover visitors’ personal interpretations of the term. Each school group that visited received the postcards to fill out in class and return to us. Considering the ages skewed pretty young — 2nd through 5th grade — their answers to some of the questions were priceless. A few examples are below (All of which were shared with our Village Manager!):
Question: If you were mayor, what would you do?
“I would declare that sheep should not be killed.”
“I would be really nice. I would buy food and a house for every poor person in town.”
Question: If you were granted one wish, what change for good would you make in your town?
“I wish for a community center, one with a pool and a rock climbing wall would be great.” [i.e. a community pool was mentioned often!]
“I wish for more buildings.”
Question: Name three things you would miss about this community if you had to leave:
“I would miss riding on the tractor, playing with my trucks out in the fields and picking corn with my dad.”
“I would miss the amazing friends I’ve made here. I would miss the fresh, non-polluted air and all the stars I can see before I go to bed.”
Any additional insight on your experience with MoMS?
TB: Bringing education and culture to our community on the MoMS scale has been invaluable. The dialog around our town about the past, present, and future has been invigorated as a result of the MoMS exhibit. I think people see the library through a different lens now. We don’t just lend books. Our ability to spark imaginations and do big things has created a new perspective for people who never think about their library.
KM: We were honored that one of the exhibit’s curators, Dr. Debra Reid of The Henry Ford, attended the grand opening and was part of the ribbon-cutting! Yes, it was a bit of work, but the returns on our investment of time, effort and money far outweighed having to wrangle those giant crates off of a semi on a cold and snowy day!