Sunday, June 16, 2013

Where's Your 21st Century Community?

If you're a local or regional history museum,  what are you documenting about your local community today?  You might be collecting flyers,  or hand-made quilts, or signs from downtown stores.  But this summer, my husband, Drew Harty, has embarked on a project that's made me both think deeply about our communities today and wonder about their future.  And what, we as museums, might be doing about this.

Drew's spending three months looking at and photographing those places that we see almost every day, but we really almost never look at--those retail landscapes at the edge of your town--at the edge of really almost every town and city, large and small.   He's undertaken this project because he wonders,
What have we lost as towns across the country look increasingly the same? Are Retail Landscapes changing our standards for what is unique and beautiful in our communities? Are these places that are so familiar to all of us changing our expectations of what a community should be?
What could a history museum do to further this conversation?  I think we need to go deeper than just exhibits highlighting once thriving Main Streets.   Perhaps we could engage in conversations about beauty,  or projects that encourage a thoughtful exploration of placemaking.   Could an exhibit highlight the places all of the goods in our community come from?  How can we encourage young people to think beyond the shiny newness of strip malls and big boxes?  How can we force ourselves to go beyond a simple, class-related dismissal of these places ("oh, I never shop at Wal-Mart") to creating our museums as an alternative, as a place where everyone in our community feels as welcome as they do at Wal-Mart?

Drew's speculated at what viewers one hundred years from now will think about these images.  Will they be as quaint and outdated as those horse and buggy main streets?  Or will they be so, so, so familiar that shots of fields, farm and neighborhoods are the true exotics?

So, museum folks, what say you?  And, by the way, you have until midnight, this Wednesday, June 19,  to help Drew's project along the way by supporting him at the crowd funding site USA Projects and you can see regular updates on his Tumblr feed.

1 comment:

Bob Beatty said...

Very interesting looking project Linda. I just connected you through FB to the graphic designer who did my book who has a similar fascination with old signage. In fact, he inspired me to start taking my own photos of these.

Anyway, I love the idea of intentionally documenting the present and wonder, as well, how museums can tap into this for not only purposes of documentation but also to help reach their community with something that's real, immediate, and tangible.