Museum on Main Street
When the Smithsonian comes to town in rural Wisconsin, everyone gets onboard. The Wisconsin Humanities Council brought the first Museum on Main Street exhibit to Wisconsin in 2002. As our community partners know, the impact is lasting. Folks in libraries, museums, schools, historical societies and civic groups have formed new connections in their own communities, undertaken ambitious new projects, raised money, and gained new skills.
The WHC has brought three exhibitions to Wisconsin: “Key Ingredients: America by Food,” “Between Fences,” and “Barn Again: Celebrating and American Icon.” To do so, we put out a statewide call and selected host organizations in six communities for each of the tours– all of fewer than 10,000 people. For each tour, we worked with the leaders and residents in those communities for a year, preparing for the tour, which lasted six weeks in each community location.
Key Ingredients: America by Food (2010-2011)
Bratwurst, booyah and beer! The “Key Ingredients: America by Food” traveling exhibition brought people together to talk about cooking, recipes, regional specialties, industry, tradition, cultural celebrations, farming, consumerism, scarcity, and what we eat for dinner in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Humanities Council toured the exhibition from October, 2010 through August, 2011. It traveled to the following communities:
• Reedsburg: Hosted by the Wormfarm Institute
• Rhinelander: Hosted by the Rhinelander District Library at the Oneida Mall Shopping Center
• River Falls: Hosted by the River Falls Public Library
• Westfield: Hosted by the Marquette County Historical Society
The impact [of hosting] has been and continues to be considerable – we knew when we were selected to host “Key Ingredients” it was a one-time thing and we were determined to leverage that opportunity to create an ongoing annual event that would have lasting community impact. The event became Fermentation Fest – A Live Culture Convergence. We just completed year three and are planning for year four with a grant from the NEA for $100,000.00.
–Donna Neuwirth, Wormfarm Institute and project director in Reedsburg (host of “Key Ingredients” in 2010)
Each community that hosted “Key Ingredients” pooled talents from their region to make the experience unique. In Reedsburg, programs about traditional preservation techniques, such as brewing, canning, and fermenting, drew together farmers, artists, and business owners for Fermentation Fest.
Several of the Key Ingredients communities planned programs about the foodways of the Ho-Chunk tribe of Wisconsin. Rhonda Funmaker, a Ho-Chunk tribal member, gardener, and cook, offered events that featured Wisconsin-grown food prepared according to her cultural traditions. Hickory nuts in maple syrup, dried blueberries with venison, and wild rice soup were on the menu!
Many of the “Key Ingredients” host organizations received grants from the Wisconsin Humanities Council for their programs. Projects that collected oral histories, that developed local exhibits, or that brought speakers to town were supported as part of the Making Wisconsin Home initiative.
Between Fences (2007-2008)
Boundaries, borders and space. Life is defined by fences both real and imagined. This Smithsonian exhibition looked at the history of barbed wire fencing, questioned whether “good fences” really make for “good neighbors,” and encouraged people to think about how we overcome or create divisions. It was a provocative topic.
The Wisconsin Humanities Council toured the exhibition “Between Fences” from September, 2007 through July, 2008. It traveled to the following communities:
• Waupaca: Hosted by the Waupaca Area Public Library
• Hales Corners: Hosted by the Stahl-Conrad Homestead
• La Farge: Hosted by the Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve
• Sauk Prairie: Hosted by River Arts, Inc.
• Clear Lake: Hosted by the Clear Lake Area Community Center
• Cable: Hosted by the Cable Natural History Museum
Having the Smithsonian’s “Between Fences” really gave the Waupaca Area Public Library a sense of how much small towns look to their local libraries as community meeting spaces. During our Between Fences exhibit, we stimulated conversation and encouraged thinking across generations. Since the MOMS exhibit we have been excited and enthusiastic about applying for more “big” events and were lucky enough to host a Lincoln exhibit from the Constitution Center. Partnering with agencies like the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the Smithsonian and the Constitution Center brought quality museum-style exhibits to our rural community.
–Sue Abrahamson, project director in Waupaca (host of Between Fences in 2007)
The host organizations spent months planning for the exhibition to open in their town. Project teams put together local exhibitions, community forums, and an array of public programs. The Wisconsin Humanities Council funded many of the “Between Fence” projects and events with grants. For example, the gates of the Badger Munitions decommissioned Army ammunition plant were opened to allow groups to tour the area in Sauk County. A four-part radio show in the sparsely populated area around Cable explored the region’s boundaries and divides. And a storyteller spent nearly a week at the La Farge schools developing local oral histories into a musical performance.
Barn Again: Celebrating an American Icon! (2002-2003)
Barns are buildings and they are symbols. They connect us to the past and open a conversation about the working landscape today. Wisconsin is noted for its barns. Bank barns and gambrel roofed barns are the most common style, but the materials, builders, and uses vary. This exhibition, developed by the Smithsonian to travel all over the country, looked at the barn as an icon, a symbol, and a witness to changes in American society.
The Wisconsin Humanities Council toured the exhibition “Barn Again: Celebrating an American Icon” from September, 2007 through July, 2008. It traveled to the following communities:
• Wausaukee: Hosted by the School District of Wausaukee
• Ladysmith: Hosted by the Rusk County Community Library
• Blanchardville: Hosted by the Blanchardville Historical Society
• Kewaunee: Agricultural Heritage and Resources
• Osceola: Hosted by the St. Croix ArtBarn
• Washburn: Hosted by the Washburn Historical Museum & Cultural Arts Center
The Governor declared 2003 the Year of the Barn in Wisconsin! We kicked off “Barnstorm Wisconsin” with a Dairy Breakfast at the Wisconsin State Fair and the exhibition was on display for three days at Farm Technology Days in Waupaca. Crowds turned out to see the Smithsonian exhibition, along with a special display about Wisconsin barns produced by the Wisconsin Humanities Council. Local events included a dance performance in a barn, a symposium about the future of the farm, and a play called “Dancing the Cows Home” based on the book of the same title.
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