Small Museum of the Month: Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art

The Small Museum of the Month for May is the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art in David City, NE. The institution is the only museum dedicated exclusively to agrarian art in the United States, and its mission is to use art to connect people to the land. Founded by volunteers in 2007, the museum continues to rely heavily on its dedicated volunteer staff and its enthusiastic membership, which includes 292 members from 30 states. Since its founding, Bone Creek has featured 42 exhibitions of agrarian art celebrating the heritage and current themes of rural life. The museum also holds additional events including artist talks, art workshops, poetry readings, and a summer art camp for kids.

In May of this year, the museum launched a commemorative exhibition called, “150 for Nebraska’s 150th.” The exhibition features works honoring the state of Nebraska from 150 different artists with ties to the museum, including several local artists. The works are also available for sale on site or online, with part of the proceeds benefitting Bone Creek. The museum has leveraged its Facebook page to promote the exhibition and the works available for sale, and to publicize sold paintings.

The exhibition is bookended by opening and closing receptions. The closing reception will feature live music and allow guests to meet many of the artists whose work was on display. There will also be People’s Choice awards presented to winning artists.

“150 for Nebraska’s 150th” was selected as a Signature Event for the official Nebraska Statehood 150 Celebration by the Nebraska Sesquicentennial Commission.

Small Museum of the Month: The Alice Paul Institute

Paulsdale, the birthplace and childhood home of militant suffragist leader Alice Paul, isn’t your typical museum and arguably isn’t a museum at all. Paulsdale is the headquarters of the Alice Paul Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission is to honor the legacy of Alice Paul’s work for gender equality through education and leadership development. Paulsdale’s architecture has been preserved to look as it did around 1900 and houses a small exhibit about Alice Paul as well as the Alice Paul Archives and Women’s History Library. However, Paulsdale is not a historic house museum, it is an example of adaptive reuse which is a process of retaining the historic features of old buildings while adapting them for new uses.

One of the most interesting programs the Alice Paul Institute runs is the Girls Advisory Council (GAC), a leadership program for high school girls that brings together women’s history and contemporary issues that affect women and girls. The program is based on the Girls Learn International curriculum which educates students about the global movement for girls’ access to education. GAC meets at Paulsdale every month, but GAC members visit local businesses and historic sites and even get the chance to speak about the importance of women’s and girls’ issues with public figures, at conferences, and even at the United Nations. GAC preserves the legacy of Alice Paul by inspiring young women to be leaders and to care about the issues that she cared about.

Adaptive reuse is a useful tool for historic sites that are struggling to manage costs because it allows the site to be preserved and opens up new revenue streams to fund that preservation. Paulsdale is a particularly interesting example of adaptive reuse because the current use for the house is an innovative and appropriate way to highlight its historic importance. While Paulsdale may not be a museum in the strictest sense, the Alice Paul Institute has turned it into a monument to Paul’s work and a place to educate the public about her and her legacy. In fact, because of Paul’s political activity, it is perhaps a much more pertinent and educational use for her childhood home than a historic house museum would be.

Small Museum of the Month: Philadelphia Public History Truck

This month’s museum: Philadelphia Public History Truck in Philadelphia, PA.

Community engagement is a necessity for any museum or historic home. Long-term sustainability requires connecting with new audiences regularly and building lasting relationships. For organizations focusing on history, connecting the public with the past in a relatable way can be a challenge, particularly as communities, their needs, and their interests change over time. So we can we do?

The Philadelphia Public History Truck (PPHT) has one answer to this question – go into these communities and assist the residents as they construct exhibits about their own local history. Share authority and do it on the terms of the people you want to reach. The PPHT partners with a local neighborhood association and volunteers in the community to build ties with its residents. After establishing relationship, it holds meetings to collect oral histories, objects, and art to be arranged by the community in an exhibition. PPHT drivers also conduct archival research to support the neighborhood’s narrative. By bringing the tools used to construct history to underserved areas, the PPHT empowers Philadelphians to share their story in their own words and connect it with other neighborhoods.

The PPHT is a mobile museum with a dedicated staff. It has a truck specially equipped to display exhibits. While other small museum or historic homes may be interested in community engagement, developing a project like this may seem beyond their scope. It is possible to put together an outreach project inspired by the successes of the Philadelphia Public History Truck while staying true to the mission of your organization. Sharing authority with the desired audience and building relationships through outreach are places to start.

As mentioned above, the PPHT initially partners with a neighborhood association. When connecting with new groups, begin by reaching out that community’s advocates. These individuals or organizations can familiarize your institution with the needs, interest, and history of their community, building a base understanding for your institution before you plan any projects. This approach also allows your institution time to introduce the advocate to your mission statement and work. The community advocates become intermediaries, a supporter for a future relationship between your institution and the community.

To build lasting relationships, both parties need a stake in each other’s interests. So have members of your staff volunteer in the community to deepen your organization’s understanding of that community. Talking to community members in this context allows you and your staff to hear about their needs through their own words. This could serve as a foundation for a future joint initiative. Together, you can discuss areas in which the mission of your organization can support the educational, programmatic, or outreach needs of that community.

The PPHT is a wonderful example of a nonprofit that builds relationships through shared authority. By developing an interest in the community first, the organization can accomplish its mission to empower Philadelphia’s communities through history. While your program may not ultimately be a mobile history truck, institutions across the country can learn and take inspiration from this model.

To learn more, please visit the Philadelphia Public History Truck’s website at, visit the PPHT Facebook page, or follow PPHT on Twitter @HistoryTruck.

Small Museum of the Month: History Hunters Youth Reporter Program

History Hunters

This month, Sustaining Places is highlighting the work of the History Hunters Youth Reporter Program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Imagine walking the grounds of estates with noble-sounding names like Stenton and Cliveden. Consider what it was like to interact with Native American tribes in the eighteenth century. Think of what it meant to be involved with the Underground Railroad. Students enrolled in the History Hunters Youth Reporter Program do just that when they visit five historic sites in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Students in the History Hunters Program


History Hunters is designed to give underserved children in the Philadelphia Public School District an opportunity to engage in hands-on learning outside of the classroom. Students develop higher-order thinking skills in history, art, math, writing, and science through trips to Stenton, Cliveden, La Salle University Art Museum, The Johnson House, and Wyck. The lessons are designed to utilize district, state, and national standards for 4th and 5th grade education. What helps to tie the exercises together is a 100-page workbook that encourages critical thinking on the trips and in the classroom. Throughout the workbook, students are introduced to historical figures like William Penn and Native American groups like the Lenape. Educators find maps, portraits of important historic figures, and key vocabulary words in the workbooks.

Teacher testimonials are an indication of how effective the History Hunters Youth Reporter Program is for students. Educators appreciate the alternative learning settings that History Hunter provides on its trips. The program assists teachers in engaging with literacy standards in the Philadelphia School District in ways that would not be available in a traditional classroom setting. Some teachers report that students and their families return to the historic sites after the school trips!

In the museum world, scalability is a concern for professionals. Best practices can sometimes involve designs that are out of reach because of prohibitive costs or staff limitations. Nevertheless, smaller historic sites can still incorporate features of programs like History Hunters in their activities for school aged children. Simple exercises like sketching and role playing can be effective tools for learning outside of the classroom. Creating small packets with mini lessons that instruct students in using maps or doing math based on information from account books are ways to immerse children in the past. Museum employees can communicate with teachers to ensure that field trips supplement educational goals while giving students the opportunity to engage with material away from their desks at school. Resources and programming can be greatly expanded when museums and historic sites become partners.These partnerships can benefit not only the community, but also the institutions themselves.


Students Learning with Hands-On Experience

The History Hunters program is coordinated by Kaelyn Barr, Site Administrator and Director of Education at Stenton and Miranda Clark-Binder, Curator of Education and Public Programs at The La Salle University Art Museum. It was initially funded by the NEH and PEW Charitable Trusts. Now, History Hunters has an endowment through The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which allows students and educators to participate for free. Since its inception over a decade ago, it has served over 20,000 students.

To learn more about this program, visit, call 215.329.7312, or email

Small Museum of the Month: Virginia Living Museum

LEGO family of deer

Welcome to our brand new page, which will highlight a new small museum each month! Each museum that is highlighted has been selected due to its creation of an innovative program or exhibit, its exemplification of best museum practices in a given area, or its use of a successful strategy to improve the visitor experience or  get people through the door. The goal of this page is to share interesting or insightful ideas and strategies from other museums that could be utilized and adapted by your museum, as well as to simply offer food for thought. Make sure to check the page each month for updates!

This month’s museum: The Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Virginia

Virginia Living Museum logo

Next summer, the Virginia Living Museum will host the “Nature Connects” exhibit which features larger-than-life sculptures of wildlife made solely from LEGO bricks. According to the creator of the exhibit, Sean Kenney, the purpose of the exhibit is to demonstrate the interconnectedness of nature through interconnected LEGO bricks. The exhibit boasts some incredible feats of LEGO engineering, including a 6-foot-tall hummingbird flying directly over a trumpet flower, as well as a dragonfly that spans over 7 feet. The exhibit will be hosted at the Living Museum from July 22 until November 26, 2017.nature

Incorporation of this type of exhibit into the Living Museum offers other museums a couple key ideas and lessons. Firstly, it shows how powerful positive relationships with regional artists, entrepreneurs, and community as a whole can be. Develop partnerships and positive relationships with creative minds. The ability of the community itself to create exciting, compelling exhibits can benefit both the museum and the community at the same time. Members of a community likely have an idea about what other community members want to see and experience in their local museum. Do not be afraid to ask for their opinions and to enlist the aid of local creative minds to develop attractive programming and exhibits.deer

Secondly, it shows the power of nostalgia and novel objects to attract visitors. An exhibit made entirely of tens of thousands of LEGO bricks is not just interesting or novel for children, it is also an interesting and engaging for the adult audience as well due to the use of a toy that transcends the age gap and has stood the test of time. What do you have in your collection that connects people of all ages due to its nostalgic qualities or agelessness? If your museum is still acquiring new objects for its collection, what could be added in the future that both connects individuals from all age groups and fits your collection and mission? The Victoria and Albert Museum is currently collecting objects from present-day that may induce nostalgia or relate to people of all ages in the future. This idea is one that may be worth thinking about.