Museums are a staple of most cities and communities; they bring education, cultural immersion, and unity. Famous institutions like the Louvre in Paris or the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. offer amazing opportunities to locals and the travelers alike. However, local museums are just as important. Although small, local museums offer a unique and niche experience compared to their larger counterparts.
When visiting a local museum the experience can be very personal. Whether an experienced local or clueless visitor, the museum curators and volunteers will work to ensure everyone learns something new and leaves inspired with each visit. The staff tend to be very passionate and eager to share their extensive knowledge about the work on display. The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England is a lovely example of a small museum. The Parsonage grounds, including the Brontë home and surrounding gardens, have been extremely well maintained. The home itself acts as the museum; each room has been staged to mirror daily life during the Victorian Era when the Brontës lived in Haworth. The museum staff recognizes that the home is very small, so they are considerate and have viewers come inside in groups. When going from room to room, volunteers are spaced throughout, offering little stories and tidbits of information if asked. By having personal and considerate museum staff, the viewer gets to learn beyond the physical information at hand; they get to hear fun anecdotes about the Brontës as children, ask detailed questions about their writing and receive on the spot answers. Local museums tend to be smaller organizations which allows them to cater to your specific interests.
In addition to personality, local museums help inspire and empower small town artists. The widespread access to social media has given some artists a more direct path to audiences. Unfortunately, even with the advantages the internet has given, it has also hindered artists, specifically those who are older and/or live in rural areas. Smaller museums represent their surrounding community; therefore, public exhibitions displaying the work of local artists is common. These exhibitions help rural artists and those who are not interested in social media gain exposure in the art world. For instance, the Delaplaine Arts Center in Frederick, Maryland hosted an exhibition earlier this year featuring the work of local artist and beloved art teacher, Tracy Ellis Guss. They showed her photography series called “An Enduring Spirit” which documented the physical changes her dear friend experienced during chemotherapy treatment. The intimate exhibit gave Guss well-deserved exposure and was indicative of the community where it was exhibited: thoughtful, supportive, and strong. Community museums help give artists who are pillars within their hometown opportunities to break into the art world whilst also occupying other important spaces like secondary education. Local museums like the Delaplaine are helping bridge gaps for artists.
From exciting social events to recording an area’s culture, local museums nourish and uphold communities. Huntingdon, Pennsylvania is a very small town in the foothills of the Appalachian mountain range. A small college, a handful of public schools, and about three grocery stores make up the town. In 2001, Isett Heritage Museum opened to the public. Melvin Isett was born in 1922 in Huntingdon County and collected local memorabilia and antiques his entire life. The Isett Heritage Museum contains Isett’s family collections and donations, totaling to an impressive 40,000 item display. The collection has sentimental things like “the ice cream fountain from Fouse’s Dairy where Mr. Isett was employed as a teenager” and projection equipment from Huntingdon’s historic movie theatre, the Clifton 5. Thousands of items recording the history of the Huntingdon community fill the Isett’s barns. These items celebrate the small town’s history and bring a sense of honor and unity to its people.
Local museums are important pillars within communities and deserve support and respect. The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted small businesses’ and organizations around the globe. Your local museums are not immune to these effects. Support your local museums as best as you can during these difficult times and in turn they will celebrate and support you as their community. Museums shine a light on our pasts, but they also brighten our future by celebrating our unique cultures, supporting our local creators, and educating generations.