VOF Preserve Manager, Joe Villari, and Preserve Technician, Summers Cleary, traveled to College Park, Maryland earlier this month to present research into the cultural narrative of mountain life at the Preserve at the 2020 Small Museum Association Conference, February 16th – 18th.
The Small Museum Association (SMA) conference focused on “Museums as Catalysts of Social Change” honoring the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement. Joe and Summers had the pleasure of presenting their talk “Making History Our-story: An On-going Case Study from an Open-air Museum”. This talk offered a brief glimpse into some of the cultural history work staff have completed over the past few years, and detailed the approaches and efforts made to work towards greater diversity, representation and inclusion at the Preserve.
More specifically, this hour-long talk focused on using the Preserve, it’s seven miles of publicly accessible hiking trails, interpretive signage, and ArcGIS StoryMaps to allow visitors to explore the cultural narrative of mountain life in a non-traditional museum setting. The narrative features stories of freed enslaved peoples, black families, women across the mountain, and families who have cultivated the landscape leaving artifacts behind such as cemeteries, low rock walls, house sites, and in some cases mysterious stories and legends.
Please peruse our slideshow presentation from the SMA conference exploring our current work and vision for this project as we continue to push the Preserve and its efforts into a more inclusive future.
In recent years, VOF Preserve staff have begun to focus on building capacity and operating as an open-air museum and living laboratory, resulting in increased archeological inquiries. Despite much improvement and forward momentum, the Preserve still lacks adequate publicly accessible outreach facilities or infrastructure – though VOF staff are in the process of changing this. There are still other obstacles to overcome to encourage visitation from a more diverse user base, one that truly represents the demographically diverse nature of nearby populations. VOF staff presented this case of punctuated equilibrium to the SMA community and shared struggles in presenting a diversely peopled past to a (hopefully) increasingly diverse user base.
Opportunities such as presenting at the SMA conference enable Preserve staff to receive invaluable feedback and education on how to best make the Preserve into an open-air museum that promotes inclusivity, representation, and diversity.