Inside JCPRD: Celebrating excellence in our county museum

American Association for State and Local History’s Award of Excellence certificate presented to the Johnson County Museum.

By The Johnson County Museum

Last month, members of the Johnson County Museum team traveled to Little Rock, Ark., to accept the American Association for State and Local History’s Award of Excellence. The national award celebrates the museum’s pandemic response, which included: a collecting initiative; a temporary exhibition designed to inspire and embolden the community; a partner-supported community art exhibition and public programming to help unpack the pandemic and address mental health needs; and special educational programming to offer safe and nurturing spaces for childcare, summer camps, and virtual learning hubs, as well as curriculum guides to help older students better understand the historic context of the pandemic and social justice movements.

Johnson County Museum staff members Leah Palmer and Mary McMurray recently accepted the AASLH’s Award of Excellence in Little Rock, Ark.

“As a county museum, we are deeply committed to our community,” said Museum Director Mary McMurray. “When the pandemic disrupted so much of our lives, the museum team used one question to focus our work: ‘how can we best serve?’ We’re honored that our dedication to serving the community earned the national distinction from AASLH.”

While the community inspired the work, a host of partners helped the museum in its pandemic response. “We owe a great thanks to our colleagues and partners without whom we would not have won this presitigioius award,” said McMurray. She credited Johnson County Park and Recreation District (JCPRD) leadership, JCPRD’s Fine Arts Department, colleagues who helped design the exhibit, the Arts Council of Johnson County, the Johnson County Museum Foundation, and Johnson County Mental Health Center with contributing to the museum’s award-winning response.

The AASLH awards program was initiated in 1945 to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States. Leadership in History Awards not only honor significant achievement in the field of state and local history, but also bring public recognition of the opportunities for small and large organizations, institutions, and programs to make contributions in this arena. This year, AASLH is proud to confer 39 national awards honoring people, projects, exhibits, and publications. The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history.

The “Rising to the Challenge – Suburban Strength in Difficult Times” exhibit is on display in the Creative Commons Area of the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center.

Although the award focused on efforts made in 2020, the museum’s pandemic response continues. Visitors to the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center can view “Rising to the Challenge: Suburban Strength in Difficult Times,” a centerpiece of the museum’s pandemic response, for free in the Creative Commons Area. Those wishing to make history can participate in the Collecting Covid-19 initiative by completing the online questionnaire at While virtual learning hubs are gone, education and enrichment opportunities in field trips, out-of-school programs, and summer camps are staples of the museum’s operations. Finally, the museum will continue to keep service to the community at the heart of all of its efforts.

The Johnson County Museum showcases Johnson County’s unique stories through collections, programs, and exhibitions utilizing its iconic venues. The museum features a signature exhibit, “Becoming Johnson County;” KidScape, a fully immersive, interactive history experience that encourages children to explore different time periods and communities; a temporary gallery, which currently features furniture and furnishings of Mid-Century designer Paul McCobb; and “Rising to the Challenge: Suburban Strength in Difficult Times.” Learners of all ages are invited to visit the museum to learn more about Johnson County and the history of suburbia.