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Center for Engagement and Community Development

KSU Chapman Center to Help Museums Across Kansas

The Kansas State University Chapman Center for Rural Studies was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to help rural historical societies and museums in Kansas with professional planning in collections, preservation and programming. Spearheading this project is Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, executive director of the Chapman Center for Rural Studies and associate professor of history at Kansas State University.

When asked what experiences gave her the idea for the grant proposal, Lynn-Sherow said, “Over the course of the past ten years we have worked with many, many historical societies.  Working on the Going Home exhibit in particular made it obvious that the majority were working without a plan and in some cases, in rather unsafe conditions. This experience led me to thinking about how we could help. In some instances, original materials had been lost, and that was a loss for the exhibit, for patrons of those museums and researchers forever. In other cases, the curators did not recognize how valuable a collection they had and didn't advertise it to the public effectively.”

The NEH grant funds will support four graduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences. They will first receive training from Lynn-Sherow and the Center for Engagement and Community Development in civic discourse and museum planning and management. Then, under the guidance of Lynn-Sherow, they will work as consultants with eight Kansas museums to develop plans for fundraising, exhibitions, public programming and preservation.

When asked how the communities will be selected, Lynn-Sherow added, “The selection of the towns/museums is actually part of the training process that the students will undertake. I have a pretty extensive list of places and have already been contacted by some, asking to be on the list! Working out a plan that balances the needs of the museums with the time and talents of the students will be key. We don't want to work with museums that are doing just fine, and we don't want to fill our basket up with organizations that don't have the capacity for making the most of the opportunity.”

The Chapman Center for Rural Studies does a lot of work with digitally preserving historic materials, so I asked if this would be a part of the museum consulting process. Lynn-Sherow replied, “If digital preservation is a need for a museum, and it likely will be everywhere, then the students will certainly have to learn how to manage collections digitally so they can train museum staff. But that will be a very small part of the work. The primary work will be in planning, and that will be done by implementing StEPs, a really fantastic museum planning system developed by the American Association for State and Local History. Using the tools developed by the AASLH, even a tiny museum can become accredited and gain a valuable network of experts to rely on for help in the future.”

As the Center for Engagement and Community Development’s cultural arts engagement intern, I am always looking for ways that faculty on campus are using arts to engage with the community. When asked how this project would do that, Lynn-Sherow enthused, “What an interesting question! I happen to love using art in museum planning and design. Local art is so highly evocative of self image--what residents believe is most important, most unique about themselves. One of my favourite museums is in Kingman County. Their county museum has a gigantic mural painted on one exterior wall depicting the first airmail deliveries in the county--piloted by none other than Clyde Cessna who was from Kingman, near a tiny town called Rago. Even a well recognized logo (we use an oak tree to show that we are sheltering and steadfast)  is a good way to incorporate art into a community as well as exhibiting re-photography, aerial photos, old films and even selfie stations depicting past events.  Community created art--as in a temporary mural or an exhibit of local artists, is a wonderful way to explore the past, its symbols and hopes for the future. 

Lynn-Sherow also has some outcomes she hopes to see from both the training and consultations. “At the very least, I hope to see the evolution of four highly skilled, capable young men and women who are fired up and ready to go help other rural communities as professionals, as leaders and community activists. That is probably too tall an expectation, but I'm hopeful.   I plan to publish the results of our work in a journal that documents and celebrates public history and I hope that our participating museums will serve as models for other museums and will actively engage with them. Eight museum projects in a state with 110 counties is not going to change the world. But those eight museums can help mentor many more and so on and so on. And of course the Chapman Center will still be here, providing help and advice as needed, and who knows, maybe new projects will emerge as we learn more about this aspect of rural revitalization.”

Original press release here: https://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/2017-12/chapmangrant121917.html

-       Jael Whitney, CECD Cultural Arts Engagement Intern