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MH Celebrates Successful Start to Museum on Main Streets with Rural Policy Advisory Commission

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On Friday, September 23 Mass Humanities joined members of the Rural Policy Advisory Commission as well as elected officials from Essex and Hull to celebrate a successful start to the Smithsonian Museum on Main Streets (MoMS) traveling exhibit “Crossroads: Changes in Rural America” at the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum (EHSSM).

Last week’s event highlighted the importance of focusing a statewide dialogue on the Crossroads theme and the exhibit’s ability to spark meaningful discussions in rural communities as they explore their past, present and future.

“Looking at our past and trying to imagine our future is fundamental to how we consider the humanities and how it can be impactful in Massachusetts,” said Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities. “To be able to come together around this fantastic exhibition and dig deep at the town level on the stories and the challenges that each of these places face is, again, rooted in the humanities and brings us together rather than driving us apart. We want to sustain that work because we really believe our democracy needs new narratives and rural Massachusetts should be part of those narratives.”

At the reception, Chair of the State’s Rural Policy Advisory Commission Linda Dunlavy said while the population of the Commonwealth as a whole is growing the population in the state’s most rural area’s is declining. Dunlavy said exhibits like MoMS, that connect people to rural places, will highlight the challenges many of these communities are facing.

“We don’t talk about rural Massachusetts enough,” said Dunlavy. “It is exciting to welcome the Smithsonian and this exhibit throughout Massachusetts over the next year and we really hope that it’s an opportunity to not only highlight the beauty and the economic strength of rural Massachusetts but also its needs and challenges.”

Top, Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities, bottom, Chair of the State’s Rural Policy Advisory Commission Linda Dunlavy.

MoMS kicked off at the EHSSM and Essex Town Hall on September 10 with programing continuing through October 22. The next stop on the tour will be at the Hull Lifesaving Museum (10/30/2022 – 12/10/2022) followed by stops at the Rutland Free Public Library (12/18/2022 – 1/28/2023), Great Falls Discovery Center, Turners Falls (2/5/2023 – 3/18/2023), Bushnell-Sage Library, Sheffield (3/26/2023 – 5/6/2023) and Athol Public Library (5/14/2023 – 6/24/2023). Sponsors for the statewide tour include: National Endowment for the Humanities, Big Y, and Blue Cross Blue Shield with additional support for the Essex MoMS from New England BioLabs and the Essex County Community Foundation.

“Through the strong leadership and partnership between Mass Humanities and the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, the resources of the Smithsonian Institute have come to Essex and the North Shore, giving us all the opportunity to better understand and reflect on the history of American rural communities, and the issues and decisions involved in their future,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Essex). “It is significant that Essex is the very first community to host this exhibit, and important that the history of this town, built on the hard work of shipbuilders, clammers, and others, be shared as a national example to invigorate discussion about the special nature of rural communities. The exhibit also gives us a great opportunity to think about the town in the context of its role in history, and to think about our role in shaping its future.”

Over the last several months, each MoMS site has worked hand-in-hand with the Smithsonian, Mass Humanities and local partners to create additional exhibits and programming that connects each rural community’s land, people, identity, persistence, and change to evaluate the past, present and future. Each site received extensive training from the staff of the Smithsonian along with a $10,000 grant from Mass Humanities to develop public events during each MoMS stop, which will be on display for six weeks at each site.

“It has really been an amazing opportunity through this exhibit for Essex to look at our identity, who we were, who we are and who we will be in the future,” said KD Montgomery, Executive Director of the EHSSM. “We are all really excited for you to be here.”

Rep. Joan Meschino (D-Hull) said she is excited for the MoMS exhibit to arrive in her hometown at the Hull Lifesaving Museum on October 30.

“It’s absolutely delightful to be here with all of you,” said Rep. Meschino. “I think it was really important for me to come from Hull to be part of this because you cherish these communities, steward them and treat them lovingly. I also want to thank Mass Humanities for recognizing that when communities get these type of grants it really helps us uplift, illuminate and connect.”

Maureen Gillis, Director of Development at the Hull Lifesaving Museum, said it was fitting the museum in Hull was chosen to be part of MoMS because it celebrates the heroic actions of the coastal lifesavers, who set out into the sea during storms to save imperiled sailors from around the world as they attempted to navigate the treacherous waters at the entrance to Boston Harbor.

“They did not ask those sailors about their race, religion, country of origin or sexual orientation before saving them because they saw everyone as humans in need of help,” said Gillis. 

Launched in 1994, MoMS is a Smithsonian outreach program that engages small town audiences and brings revitalized attention to underserved rural communities.  The program partners with state humanities councils like Mass Humanities to bring traveling exhibitions, educational resources and programming to small towns across America through their own local museums, historical societies and other cultural venues.

For further information, contact Jen Atwood at jatwood@masshumanities.org.

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