Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Community Exhibit

In planning our current exhibit, "Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s", we learned something very important.

We like to have community input when planning our exhibits. Interesting, right? A local museum that wants to hear from the community? Who would have thought it possible?

In our current exhibit we could have told the story of Laurel in the 1950s based on newspapers, city minutes and other documents.

But it is a lot more fun to actually talk to people
. So that is what we did. In interviews with Laurelites who lived here in the 1950s we learned a lot about Laurel during that time period.

People gave us stories that we would otherwise never have known. People directed us to the important things about their lives that the papers neglected or didn't focus on. People helped us tell more of the story. And people gave history a personal touch.

So we're a little hooked. We're convinced that Laurel, as a community, has a lot to say about itself. In planning our next exhibit, we're going to do our best to listen to those stories.

What is our next exhibit? Well, we're very much in the planning stages but here is the big idea: we will pair a collection of photographs from the early 1900s with photographs from the early 2000s to begin a discussion about life in Laurel.

What defines community in Laurel? What has changed? What has stayed the same?

My hope is that we'll find amazing parallels between life in Laurel in 1910 and in 2010 that show how strong of a community we really are. We'll be able to have a conversation about an evolving population that has remained strong in its support of one another. Maybe we'll find this. Maybe we won't. That's the fun part of developing an exhibit--you never know!

It might be hard for us to talk to people who lived here in 1910, but we're doing our best to get a conversation going with people who are in Laurel now.

Our first step was to look for people to talk to. We could have walked down the street with a sign that said"The Laurel Museum wants to hear about your life in Laurel!", but we didn't. Instead we went to local community groups/religious organizations. We asked these groups to suggest someone who might be interested in helping us tell the story of Laurel in 2010.

We have now formed an Exhibit Advisory Committee. The group met last week and seemed VERY excited about telling the story of Laurel.

But this is not a surprise to me. I've known for a while now that community is important in Laurel. So I'm not surprised that these people took time out of their busy nights to come spend an evening at the Laurel Museum and munch on some cookies donated from the Ideal Bakery.

To them, helping to tell the story of their community is very important. A community without a story, without a history, without an identity is no community at all. These people know that. I only hope that we can help them tell their story and the story of our community in the best way possible.

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