Plans under way for AHF Bicentennial traveling exhibit

We all belong to a larger-than-life story, two hundred years in the making. As Alabamians, our story has been crafted by the moments that both define and refine who we are. A tightly woven tapestry of trials, triumphs and transformations, this vibrant tale celebrates our commonalities and honors our individualities.

It is an epic adventure, twisting its way through the peaks and valleys of the past and taking hopeful turns for the future. Its plot is steeped in little-known secrets and monumental events forever carved in history.

Its setting spans every county in the state and features a full and fascinating cast of local, unsung heroes and world-famous champions of change. Welcome to the unprecedented, unabridged and often unexpected story of Making Alabama. A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit.

And so begins the story of Alabama and its celebration of 200 years as a state. Beginning in mid-2018, Alabama Humanities Foundation will be presenting a traveling exhibit of Alabama’s history in all 67 counties as part of a three-year Bicentennial celebration called Alabama 200.

Just like history, Making Alabama. A Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit had its beginnings long before the public will see it on the first stop on the tour in a year and a half from now. For nearly two years, AHF has been involved in a series of planning and strategy sessions as a partner to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission and the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Because of AHF’s experience and success in the Museum on Main Street Program, a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit, the organization was tasked with creating its own tour to showcase not only 200 years of statehood, but offer opportunities for local communities to get involved with presenting their own ‘making’ of a community.

AHF is working with a creative team to develop Making Alabama – taking it from concept to opening of the 18-month event. Its final days are expected to lead up to the 200th anniversary of Alabama’s statehood, Dec. 14, 2019.

The actual celebration is a three-year long effort, kicking off in Mobile on March 3, 2017, 200 years to the date that Alabama became a territory. Over the next three years, it will invest in schools and teachers, engage communities, and encourage citizens and visitors alike to explore and learn about the state.

Each year will have a theme: 2017, Explore Our Places; 2018, Honor Our People; and 2019, Share Our Stories.

In March of 2018, AHF will put its tour in motion, traveling to all of Alabama’s counties with up to three-week stays at each stop. In January 2017, AHF will begin its recruitment of host communities, which is expected to be a months-long process.

Any community is eligible to be a host, provided it has minimum event space requirements. If you are interested in becoming a host community, go to makingalabama.org. As plans progress, more resource information will be housed on the site, including a ‘how to’ guide to hosting, an overview of the exhibit itself, concept designs, teacher lesson plans and tour schedules. It will serve as an online component of the exhibit, giving host communities a place to promote its own events in conjunction with Making Alabama.

“We are excited and honored about our role in this whole process of celebrating our state’s rich history,” said AHF Executive Director Armand DeKeyser. “Making Alabama is an unparalleled opportunity for us to share the pivotal moments – some well-known, some not so famous – that shaped who we are as a state. This is a valuable investment in learning more about and understanding this place we call home.”

“From the very start,” explained Alabama Bicentennial Commission Executive Director Jay Lamar, “the Commission’s wish list for projects included a traveling exhibit. ADAH’s Alabama Voices exhibit, which tells the story of Alabama through its artifacts and art, is an extraordinary exhibit and rivals anything you can see in D.C. But not everyone can make it to Montgomery to visit Alabama Voices, and that was a compelling reason for the Commission to think about a traveling exhibit that would take great content to every corner of the state. That gives real meaning to educational outreach.”

AHF’s experience with Museum on Main Street made it a “natural project lead” Lamar said. “It has worked extensively with communities throughout its history. Thanks to its work with Smithsonian exhibits, many places have the knowledge and skills to make the most of a traveling exhibit. That is a great foundation for the bicentennial.

Making Alabama is a – maybe the – signature project of the commemoration. It is hard to think of another that will be more visible. Imagine three or four transport vehicles wrapped with the project logo traveling up and down the state! But there is probably no project that will reach more people either.” Because it will travel to every county, and be there long enough for adults and children from all over the area to visit, Making Alabama stands to reach a huge number of Alabamians.

Making Alabama can be a “lynch pin” for projects in communities, she said. “Public libraries, schools, local history and heritage organizations, and others can take advantage of the presence and publicity of the exhibit to bring attention their activities and projects.  Other statewide bicentennial projects — like a statewide common read — will support and be supported by Making Alabama.

“As Steve Murray, director of the Alabama Department of Archives & History, has said, Making Alabama is a ‘tent pole’ project. When AHF puts Making Alabama in place, we will all want to be under the tent!”

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