Traveling Smithsonian exhibit headed to the Valley

  • A traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian, focused on rural America, is headed to the Valley next year. IMAGE FROM MUSEUM ON MAIN STREET, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION WEBSITE

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2022 3:44:58 PM
Modified: 1/16/2022 3:43:54 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A taste of the national Smithsonian Museum, with an emphasis on small-town America, will be coming to the Valley next year.

“Crossroads: Changes in Rural America,” a traveling exhibit produced by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, will come to the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls in early 2023 and will also make a stop at the Athol Public Library in May and June next year.

It’s a project for which Mass Humanities, the nonprofit group based in Northampton, has partnered with the Smithsonian, the nation’s largest museum, to bring the exhibit to some of the smaller towns in Massachusetts — and to help some of those same places envision ways to remain vital.

Mass Humanities is the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and produces a broad range of programs — in history, literature, arts, and other disciplines — across the commonwealth.

Late last summer, organizations in Massachusetts towns with populations of 12,000 or less were invited to apply to Mass Humanities for a chance to host the Smithsonian exhibit for a period of six weeks. Brian Boyles, Mass Humanities’ executive director, said those organizations were also asked about their ability to partner with other groups in their communities to create additional programming around the exhibit.

“Crossroads” includes several exhibition stands with photos, text and other displays; video and audio content; interactive computers; and other material. The exhibit offers a broad look at how rural American communities have changed since 1900, when about 60% of the population lived in rural areas, compared to about 17% today — even when only a small percentage of the American landscape today is actually considered urban.

“It basically looks at where we were and how small communities today can still be sustained, how they can leverage their experiences to remain good places to live and work,” Boyles told the Gazette last summer.

The exhibit will now be presented in six towns, including Essex, Hull, Rutland, and Sheffield, in the commonwealth beginning in September. The Great Falls Discovery Center will host “Crossroads” from Feb. 5 to March 18 in 2023, and the Athol Public Library will host it May 14 to June 24, 2023.

Each site will receive extensive training from the staff of the Smithsonian along with a $10,000 grant from Mass Humanities to develop related public events during the exhibit.

“It’s an honor to partner with the Smithsonian and our friends at each of the selected sites,” Boyles said in a statement. “Rural Massachusetts is a complex, changing landscape, and residents in our small towns deserve to be heard as we build a more equitable commonwealth.”

The program has also been supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at


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