Johnson County Museum recognized for its exhibits cataloging COVID-19’s impact on JoCo

The Johnson County Museum earlier this year received an award from the Kansas Museum Association for its efforts to collect and showcase the local community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.

The Johnson County Museum earlier this year received an award from the Kansas Museum Association for its efforts to collect and showcase the local community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kansas Museum Association recognized the Johnson County Museum with an Award of Excellence for its project, “Collect, Curate, Partner, Serve: Johnson County Museum’s Response to COVID-19,” which examines the pandemic’s impact on Johnson County and the community’s response to it.

The association gave this award during its virtual luncheon last month.

“In the throes of a pandemic with the doors of the museum closed to the public, the curators and I asked ourselves one question: How can the museum help our community?” said Mary McMurray, director of the Johnson County Museum.

“Answering that question required launching and promoting a collecting initiative, creating and installing a temporary exhibition in six weeks, and partnering with internal and external partners to curate a complementary community art exhibition that calls viewers to reflect, show resilience and rebuild,” she said.

Beginning in March, the museum began collecting local stories and data on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Curators asked the public to answer questions and share personal stories and ideas for photographs, objects and documents that would represent this time period.

The museum received more than 40 submissions to the questionnaire and collected items from Johnson County government offices, medical innovations, homemade masks and items related to milestones altered by the pandemic, like high school graduations.

The museum, which is housed at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, will continue collecting stories and items in order to “give the community time to reflect on the stories and artifacts that will help future generations of curators tell the story of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Johnson County and the region,” museum staff reported.

‘Rising to the Challenge: Suburban Strength in Difficult Times’

Another temporary exhibit called “Rising to the Challenge” aimed to bring attention to stories of Kansans in difficult times such as war and economic crises. Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.

Another temporary exhibit called attention to stories of Kansans in difficult times. The exhibit, “Rising to the Challenge: Suburban Strength in Difficult Times,” takes visitors through eras of difficulty in Johnson County’s history, such as economic crises, war, natural disasters and personal tragedies.

One of the museum’s temporary exhibits showcases the trials, grief and difficulties of the pandemic as demonstrated by artists. Photo courtesy Johnson County Museum.

“The exhibit focuses on the ways in which Johnson Countians responded to historic challenges,” museum staff wrote. “Key themes include: strength and resilience, awareness and preparedness, sacrifice, innovation and adaptation, and when the challenge was met, with reflection and remembrance.”

That exhibit will remain on display through the spring and features items from the museum’s collection of photographs, objects and stories; images of Kansans from the Library of Congress and National Archives; and a 3-D printed plastic face shield from the MakerSpace at the Johnson County Library.

A final component of the museums attempts at examining the pandemic’s impact was a temporary exhibit showcasing the trials, grief and difficulties of the past year as demonstrated by artists.

This exhibit, “Resilience, Reflection, Rebuilding: Artists Respond to COVID-19,” is a collaborative piece by the Fine Arts Department of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District and the Arts Council of Johnson County.

“The arts have the ability to help us feel connected in a time of physical distancing, to process, to reflect, and to imagine a better future,” McMurray said.  “None of the art in the show is hung at the normal height, which reflects the lack of normalcy now.”

This exhibit will remain on display until Jan. 22.