Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing
This is the fourth part of our behind-the-scenes look at the development of Local Economies, Global Impacts, a new exhibition that will open this summer at Shaker Village.
In previous posts we introduced three main goals that the team at Shaker Village keep in mind when developing any new exhibit:
Today we’re going to dive into the third goal: Be Relevant.
“Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.” – Freeman Tildan
There are some things that all of us have in common. We all need water to survive. We all breath air. We interact with other humans. We all have some belief, or a system of values, that inform our lives.
Finding these common threads, or “universal” concepts, can build a bridge between your own experience and the experience of someone else.
Here’s an example relevant to our upcoming exhibit. I’m willing to bet that right now you are probably wearing clothes. (If you aren’t, let’s just keep that to yourself for now!)
Since you are wearing clothes, you are part of the textile industry.
Wool, linen and silk were the most prevalent textiles used for clothing and other needs at Pleasant Hill. The Shakers raised flocks of sheep for wool, fields of flax for linen and silk worms for their silk. They knew exactly where their resources were coming from, and how much was used each year.
Today, we are part of a global textile market. You probably don’t know where your shirt was made without checking the tag. It was also likely made in a place that you have never visited. And yet, we are still part of the same overall system, though on a larger scale, that the Shakers were part of. This will be true for every visitor to this exhibit.
The Unexamined Life
Okay, so big deal. I wear clothes. The Shakers wore clothes. Is this supposed to be some sort of revelation?
Not exactly. It’s really just a foot in the door. The next steps are what really matter.
By interpreting universal concepts we are attempting to lead our visitors to two important considerations. The first is simply to take interest in how someone other than yourself has lived. This can require some level of empathy, and if the story is compelling and relatable you are more likely to care. Learning how to care about others, or at least take some interest in their lives, is a noble endeavor.
The second consideration we are guiding our guests toward is the examination of their own life. As I said in our last exhibit blog post – It’s not actually about the Shakers. It’s about you.
Many who proclaim a love of history enjoy the study of things that have already happened simply because they have already happened. There’s some security in that thought.
The more challenging, but infinitely more fulfilling approach to studying history is to actually learn from it. Not just names and dates. By learning the successes, struggles, beliefs and compromises of those who have come before us we build the mirror with which we can examine ourselves.
Local Economies, Global Impacts
Global markets are immensely detailed and complicated to understand. However, the basics of managing resources, production and trade have really not changed so much since the time of the Shakers at Pleasant Hill. In addition to the textile industry, our upcoming exhibit will tell the stories of the broom industry, Shaker mills and shops, trading routes, market places and Pleasant Hill’s business leaders.
When visiting the exhibit after it opens this summer, put yourself in the place of the Shakers. How would you handle situations they faced? What role might you play? When looking at your life today through this lens, do you discover anything about yourself?
Next Month: We’ll go behind-the-scenes for the fabrication of exhibit features for Local Economies, Global Impacts.
Local Economies, Global Impacts is funded in part through a Museums for America matching grant, administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.