By The Johnson County Museum
What makes a museum? This is something our staff has been thinking about a lot lately. An institution that is valuable to a community. A place that cares for a community’s collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents. A place where the public can come and learn something new – about their community, about their history, about themselves. A place where truth can be found, with sources to back up the text you read, and objects to back up the stories you hear. For the best museums out there, a place where nostalgia and memory combine with history and objects to tell a story that speaks to the visitor, deep inside.
How can we be a museum when the most important part of each of those statements is missing – the visitor, the public, the community? The Johnson County Museum closed to the public beginning Monday, March 16. The Savages and Princesses traveling exhibit has been deinstalled, packed up, and shipped out to its next location in Spokane, Wash. The temporary gallery sits empty for now. The screen that hosts our digital exhibit, Women and the Vote, sits dark in the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center Commons. Our programs for kids and adults have been canceled or postponed. How can we define a museum when people cannot come to the museum?
The answer is we redefine ourselves! You have seen other museums, zoos, and art galleries do that in the past few weeks. When the people cannot come to the museum, we must do our best to take the museum to the people. We are happy to announce that we are working away on new content for our website – a “Virtual Museum.” While we will not have a full exhibit tour posted here – after all, we want you to come and see us again when this has all passed – we are excited about the new features at www.jcprd.com/virtualmuseum.
We will have a virtual, clickable tour of the 1954 All-Electric House, the museum’s largest collection item. This house, advertised as the “lazy man’s paradise,” is a blast from the past – peach and green tile bathroom, wood paneling, pink laminate kitchen counters, and cupboards stocked with 1950s dishware, foodstuffs, and accessories. If you have not visited or visited many times, you will still get a kick out of this tour. Additionally, we will be presenting short overview videos of the main sections of the permanent exhibit, Becoming Johnson County. These will cover the main eras and themes in our exhibit, and leave you wanting to know more. Plus, check out our social media accounts for some quick “Behind-the-Scenes” collection tours, “Ask the Staff” moments, and “Staff Faves.”
We are also thrilled to be able to present the Women and the Vote digital exhibit in an online format! This important exhibit marks the Centennial of the 19th Amendment, through which women across the nation finally won the right to vote. The exhibit traces women’s struggle for suffrage (the right to vote) across the country, in Kansas, and women’s electoral history in Johnson County. You can view the exhibit and find out more about what the museum is doing this year to mark the occasion at www.jcprd.com/womenandthevote. Learn what other institutions in the KC Metro area are doing by checking www.19at100.org. Know that many great exhibits, programs, and presentations are currently postponed, but will be picking back up after this all passes.
Kids won’t feel left out either-we will be posting “home edition” scavenger hunt and History Detective ideas to keep them entertained with just what you have in your home. While we cannot read our “Retro Storytime” stories online for you (it’s a copyright thing), we are happy to provide a link to a great website created by our storytime pals at Little Golden Books. The activities they have created will pair with your own Little Golden Book stories at home. Plus, keep up with us on social media and see what our famous green, orange, and white dog chairs are up to while the building is quiet!
Lastly, there is always amazing content to be found on our existing websites. Perhaps the greatest Johnson County history website yet the least well-known is www.jocohistory.org. This fully searchable website is the digital repository for not just the museum, but the JoCo Library, JoCo Archives, the Overland Park Historical Society, the Lenexa Historical Society, the Olathe Public Library, and the Kansas School for the Deaf, among others. Created in 2006 with grant funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, this site contains over 30,000 digitized photographs from our collection, as well as other great content from our partner institutions. Check out full issues of The Squire magazine, aerial photography from the county’s history, the Atlas Maps of Johnson County (they contain some great history write ups, too), and back issues of the museum’s former newsletter, The ALBUM. Plus, the Johnson County Museum and the Johnson County Library share a blog – the JoCoHistory Blog. Each institution posts once per month. You never know what incredible stories you will read here. The back issues are fully searchable, so there are hours of reading: www.jocohistory.wordpress.com. Lastly, sit back and enjoy an audio tour of the Lanesfield School Historic Site online or while you walk the grounds of the site and read the accompanying interpretive panels: https://jcmuseum.wixsite.com/lanesfield.
To close, while we miss welcoming you into the arts & heritage center, giving you tours of our exhibits, seeing your kids explore KidScape, and attending our programming, know that we are working hard to continue to provide you with great content through our websites and our social media accounts. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JoCoMuseum and by searching #JoCoMuseum and #JoCoHistory. Have some thoughts on what you’d like to see us talk about? Send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message through our social media.
In the meantime, stay home, stay healthy, and know that we are looking forward to seeing you in the museum again soon!
-Johnson County Museum Staff