Traveling Smithsonian exhibit, now in Turners Falls, shining spotlight on rural America

  • The “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” exhibit is on display through March 18 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • The “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” exhibit is on display through March 18 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Dozens attended Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for “Crossroads: Change in Rural America.” STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Great Falls Discovery Center Visitor Services Supervisor Janel Nockleby cuts the ribbon to celebrate the “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” exhibit at the Great Falls Discovery Center on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Great Falls Discovery Center Visitor Services Supervisor Janel Nockleby cuts the ribbon to celebrate the “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” exhibit at the Great Falls Discovery Center on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Dozens attended Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for “Crossroads: Change in Rural America,” a traveling Smithsonian exhibit that is on display through March 18 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 2/8/2023 5:11:32 PM
Modified: 2/8/2023 5:10:52 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Due to its association with the nation’s capitol, a Smithsonian exhibit, in some ways, may feel out of place in small-town Montague. In other ways, though, it feels just right.

“This is about the small-town vibe,” said Caitlin Kelley, director of Montague Public Libraries, a program partner of the “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” Smithsonian exhibit. “It’s really cool to have people be able to look into a mirror and see themselves, while also seeing places they’ve never been to or never considered.”

The traveling exhibit, produced by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, is now available to view at the Great Falls Discovery Center following a well-attended ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday. It offers a broad look at how rural American towns have changed since 1900, when about 40% of the population lived in rural areas, compared to less than 18% today — even when less than 10% of the American landscape today is actually considered urban, according to the exhibit’s website.

Mass Humanities, a nonprofit based in Northampton, partnered with the Smithsonian, the nation’s largest museum, to bring the exhibit to some of the smaller towns in Massachusetts. Its other stops have included Essex, Hull, Rutland and Sheffield. The Crossroads exhibit will also stop at the Athol Public Library in May and June.

Dozens attended Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony in Turners Falls, which commenced at 11 a.m.

“It’s really nice to see the turnout here,” Sarah Doyle, secretary of the Friends of the Great Falls Discovery Center, told the crowd. “We’ve been planning this for so long, and it’s an amazing thing to see it here and not just in our heads.”

The exhibit’s arrival in Turners Falls was big in more ways than one. The pieces that are included in the presentation filled 16 crates, each larger than a human being. Program partners attended a special course to learn how to assemble the formidable puzzle. They were finally able to piece everything together in around a day’s worth of work, according to Kelley. The exhibit includes photos, text and other displays; video and audio content; interactive computers; and other material.

“It’s fantastic,” said Montague Selectboard Chairman Rich Kuklewicz, who attended the ceremony. “You can tell it’s a really well-assembled Smithsonian-quality exhibit here in our little town.”

As a whole, the vibrant and maze-like showcase “offers small towns a chance to look at their own paths to highlight the changes that affected their fortunes over the past century,” according to the Crossroads website. The detailed panels are intended to “prompt discussions about what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred.”

“Many Americans assume that rural communities are endangered and hanging on by a thread — suffering from outmigration, ailing schools and overused land. But that perception is far from true in many areas,” the website reads. “Many rural Americans work hard to sustain their communities. Why should revitalizing the rural places left behind matter to those who remain, those who left and those who will come in the future? All Americans benefit from rural America’s successes.”

“I think there’s a thread of what you see here that is run through this community,” Kuklewicz said. “We may not be a town that came from the electrical industry that benefited from rural electrification because we had it, but it’s all a piece of how the country grew. A lot of the challenges that people faced, no matter where they were, were faced by small towns as well. Montague can identify easily with many of the items of discussion here.”

While the exhibit has a home in the Discovery Center’s Great Hall through March 18, there are plans to celebrate its presence throughout the area until then. The next celebration will be a kickoff event scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 11, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Shea Theater Arts Center.

Leo Hwang, University of Massachusetts Amherst’s assistant academic dean for the College of Natural Sciences, will start the evening with an introduction to the Crossroads exhibit, followed by the documentary film, “A Sweet Tradition,” by local filmmaker Steve Alves. The show will continue with stories by four local storytellers presented by the team at New England Public Media’s Valley Voices. Musical interludes will take place throughout the evening.

“One of the things I’m hoping is that this is an anchor to bring people to the Discovery Center to see this exhibit, to see the thread that it weaves with the local community, but also to go through the Discovery Center exhibit itself,” Kuklewicz said. “I think along with other educational events … it really will be a positive for our community and bring people from a distance to see this.”

The center is open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is closed Mondays, except for Monday holidays. More information about future events can be found at greatfallsdiscoverycenter.org/calendar.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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