Inside JCPRD: 2020 made history. Now help us collect it

The Museum’s collection storage is not open for visitors, but our Behind the Scenes Tours are a great chance to go behind “Staff Only” doors and see in person what the museum collects!

By the Johnson County Museum

In a year where the fact that history is being made all around us has perhaps never been clearer, the work of the history museum becomes even more important. Collecting the history that we are living through in order to accurately and fully represent it to future generations is integral to the Johnson County Museum’s mission. The community is essential in that step – after all, the Johnson County Museum is our community’s museum. Presenting and preserving your history is what we do. And we need your help!

A Collecting Institution
The Johnson County Museum actively collects, preserves, and interprets artifacts related to Johnson County’s history. Since opening in 1967, the Museum has gathered over 20,000 objects and 1 million photographs and documents.

So, how does the museum know what to collect?

Donor Samuel Griggs wearing a T-shirt created for Olathe Northwest High School’s 2020 senior class.

Anne Jones, the museum’s curator of collections, looks for objects with clear, strong connections to Johnson County, used by Johnson Countians, or that can tell a Johnson County story. Items that come with photographs of the piece being worn, used, or enjoyed are particularly coveted because photographs help us tell the story in a more engaging way for museum visitors.

A Collections Committee evaluates each item to make sure it fits in with the Museum’s Collection Plan, one of three core documents used to manage the Johnson County Museum’s collections. The plan addresses critical questions such as what is in the collections, or more importantly what should be in the collections. We can’t always accept items the public seeks to donate, but Collections Committee meetings are fascinating and filled with unique stories about Johnson County.

Curious if an item in your house (or attic) should be part of our community museum? You can email Anne Jones at with images of the item you are proposing to donate to the museum. Anne will walk you through the process, ask you the right questions, and make an assessment.

This doll dress from Mexico was one of the few items the donor brought with her when her family immigrated.

Latino Collecting Initiative
To help direct our collecting, the museum recently started targeted collecting initiatives. A Latino Collecting Initiative was launched in 2018. Latinos represent one of Johnson County’s oldest and the fastest growing communities. Despite this, the museum collection lacks the stories, objects, photographs, and documents that are needed to accurately and fully represent the vibrance, culture, and history of the Latino community.

For the last two years the museum has connected with individuals and organizations, gathered stories, and accepted photographs and objects into the collection. We will continue to reach out and make contacts in the community, and work toward forming long-lasting relationships within Latino populations.

Collecting COVID-19 Initiative graphic, launched to help the museum reflect the pandemic for future generations.

Collecting COVID-19 Initiative
Sometimes the responsibility of representing history requires quick action. In March 2020, museum staff identified the importance of collecting objects, photographs, and stories around the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. In order to collect history as it happened, the museum created a special online form for community members to share their experiences and suggest items for donation.

Did you switch to virtual learning? Did you work from home, or perhaps lose your job or business? Have you lost a loved one, or are you an essential worker? Do you think it is all overblown? We want to hear from everyone – children and parents, students and teachers, employees and the unemployed, essential workers and business owners – in order to represent a full range of experiences during the pandemic.

Shawn Jones and Carole Palmer making masks for community members in spring 2020.

More than 50 people have completed the online form to date, and objects such as masks, signage, photographs, and even an original piece of art associated with the pandemic response have already been collected. Collecting around the pandemic will be ongoing, as the situation continues to evolve and the lingering impacts on the community are not yet known.

Do you have a story to tell about COVID-19? We want to hear from you! Visit the online form to tell your story and suggest an item for donation:

Photograph taken by Johnson County photographer Rusty Leffel at the May 31 protest at the Country Club Plaza. Image used courtesy of the donor.

Hindsight is 2020
Lastly, 2020 was a year full of history-making. During the summer, protests and demonstrations took place across the country, including right here in Johnson County and in neighboring Kansas City, Mo. Did you attend a protest? Do you have signs, shirts, photographs, or other things related to a protest movement, political movement, or other demonstrations? We want to hear from you. Reach out with your donation ideas at

Johnson County is a community shaped by national and even global events, but it is the story of individuals whose contributions of all levels shaped Johnson County’s past, present, and future that resonate most with museum visitors. You are part of our county’s history. We hope you’ll share your history with us.

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