Museum on Main Street heading to Alabama

Red Bay, Ashland, Andalusia, Fairhope, Northport and Wetumpka. No, they aren’t stops along the old Silver Comet’s train route, but they are destination points for an historic traveling exhibit from Washington, D.C.

All six Alabama towns and cities have been chosen for The Way We Worked exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution in 2013-14 as part of the Museum on Main Street project.

Beginning Sept. 14, 2013, and running through July 6, 2014, The Way We Worked will be featured for more than a month at each stop, giving thousands of residents and students in those small or rural cities an opportunity they may not have had otherwise.

Through a partnership between Alabama Humanities Foundation and the Smithsonian begun in 1997, Museum on Main Street is able to offer small communities with average populations of 8,000 a quality education experience with community programs and activities in conjunction with the exhibit.

Dr. John F. Kvach, an assistant professor of history at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, will spend much of the next year visiting those towns as a key figure in the program.

The exhibit will focus on how Alabamians worked over time and place and highlight the work experiences of Americans as part of the nation’s story. Kvach will supplement the traveling exhibit with teacher workshops and public lectures as well as an oral history project that will record the voices of state residents.

The oral history project will train public school teachers and high school students to conduct interviews with local residents. Kvach hopes that the oral history component of the exhibit and the exhibit itself will allow students to engage their community’s history and encourage the public to help preserve Alabama’s historical legacy.

Plans in each of the towns and cities are already under way, officially kicked off in February with an orientation and overview conference at AHF. There, host site participants were able to hear about how the program works and what is expected of each site. They also heard a first-person account from Katy Norton, president of the Arab Chamber of Commerce, who was project director for Museum on Main Street’s 2011-12 tour.

And in return, they shared what this national exhibition means to their community back home.

Councilwoman Becky Boddie of Ashland, who along with husband Jerry, are spearheading plans in Clay County, said it was important to “acknowledge and celebrate our past while forming a bridge to the future. This project allows us to do just that.”

“Just the word, ‘Smithsonian,’ was enough to make me say, ‘We need to do this project,’ ” said Barbara Tyler, grants coordinator for Andalusia. “For a small town, rural area to have the opportunity to host museum quality information, exhibits and activities is priceless.”

Stephen Sickler of the Friends of Northport couldn’t agree more. “Many residents will never be exposed to cultural experiences such as the Smithsonian … Educational opportunities abound as a direct result of this program, which will inevitably trickle down throughout our entire community.”

In Red Bay, it is much the same story with Rosalyn Labrinke as she talks about the impact on her community. She sees it as an opportunity for the city to rediscover its “strength and spirit.”

As a selected site in a competitive process, she is grateful for Red Bay’s role. “We so appreciate the consideration as we are honored to have the Smithsonian coming to our ‘main street.’ We look forward with great anticipation to The Way We Worked and this unique mission to engage, educate and inspire.”

The Way We Worked Exhibition Tour Dates:

Red Bay        Friday, September 14 – Saturday, October 25

Ashland        Saturday, November 2 – Saturday, December 25

Andalusia        Thursday, January 2 – Sunday, February 9

Fairhope        Saturday, February 15 – Sunday, March 30

Northport        Saturday, April 5 – Saturday, May 17

Wetumpka        Friday, May 23 – Sunday, July 6

Article By Tom Bryant