Sunday, July 1, 2007

It's Summer!

As of early July, all six exhibits that are a part of Summer in the Finger Lakes open! It's been a long time collaboration between Riverhill and six local history organizations in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York. Five years ago, John Marks at the Geneva Historical Society and I were talking about vacations in the region--and how we thought there were some interesting things that might be worth exploring. So five years, many grants, loads of meeting, multiple staff changes, more than a few new babies (with two more joining us in the next month) and tons of work later, we're done! The exhibits explore six topics related to summer vacations in this region of upstate New York. They are (with their current locations):

From Steamboat Landing to State Park:
Public Access in the Finger Lakes

Geneva Historical Society, Geneva
From Lake Trout to Grape Pie:
Summer Food in the Finger Lakes

Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society, Penn Yan
From Steamboat Captain to Winery Host:
Summer Work in the Finger Lakes

The History Center of Tompkins County, Ithaca
From Toddler to Teenager:
Growing Up in the Finger Lakes

Chemung Valley Museum, Elmira
From Sacred to Stereotype and Back Again:
Native American Images in the Finger Lakes

Cayuga Museum of History and Art, Auburn

Several aspects made this project unique. After a number of false starts and not-so-great ideas, we decided to use screen doors (it's summer, right?) as the frames for the exhibit panels. Now, the doors stay at an institution, while the panel inserts are easily removed and packed for shipping or delivery. This means each organization gets to use all six exhibits over time--with very little effort. This view shows the installation at the Cayuga Museum.

Although the Riverhill team developed and designed all the panels and interactives, each museum also fleshed out the exhibit with objects and images from its own collection, other collections in the partnership, and their own community. This encouraged lending among the local museums, led staff to reconceptualize some of their own collections, and helped others to reach out into their community to borrow objects.

The team also worked to develop a family friendly take-away piece, around the idea of those car games we used to play. We also developed a website where, we hope, people will share their memories of vacationing in the region. Don't know the Finger Lakes? It's a beautiful region--still, in many ways, very unspoiled, but under fairly substantial threat in terms of growing development. The great contemporary photos in all the exhibitions, taken by Drew Harty, really connect the past to present and demonstrate what might be lost should we not pay attention to change.

To learn more, visit the project website at

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