Mass Humanities seeks host communities for traveling national exhibit

  • Downtown Peterborough, New Hampshire. A traveling exhibit on small-town America will be coming to selected towns in Massachusetts next year from the Smithsonian Institution. AP FILE PHOTO

  • A farm in Kentucky. A traveling exhibit on rural America will be coming to selected towns in Massachusetts next year from the Smithsonian Institution. AP FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2021 12:03:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Wanted: six small communities to host a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution, one that looks at the changes in rural America over the past century.

The goal, says Mass Humanities, the nonprofit group based in Northampton, is both to bring a program from the nation’s largest museum to some of the smaller towns in Massachuestts and to help some of those same places envision ways to remain vital.

Through its partnership with the Smithsonian, Mass Humanities is opening an application process to bring the Smithsonian’s “Crossroads: Changes in Rural America” to museums, libraries, or other cultural centers in the commonwealth. 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 Massachusetts.

To be eligible to house the Smithsonian exhibit, host organizations must be located in a town with a population of 12,000 or less; they’ll also be asked about their ability to partner with other groups in their communities to create additional programming.

Brian Boyles, Mass Humanities’ executive director, says the application process opens Aug. 30, and that the six selected communities will be announced by early November.

The traveling exhibit, which is part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, includes several exhibition stands with photos, text and other displays; video and audio content; interactive computers; and other material. It’s due to arrive in Massachusetts in September 2022.

Boyles said his organization’s goal is to make the exhibit available in communities around the state, including in the Valley — and given this area’s rural history and flavor, “I think it’s likely we’ll see it here in this region,” he noted.

“Crossroads” offers a broad examination of how small-town America has 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 as 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,” said Boyles.

The selected host organizations in Massachusetts for “Crossroads” will receive training from Smithsonian staff on how to mount and present the exhibit. Mass Humanities will also provide each host with a $10,000 grant to mount the exhibit, generate publicity, and create additional public programming during the six weeks it will be displayed in each community.

For instance, because the profile of rural America in the exhibit is a broad one, Boyles said Mass Humanities will work with host organizations and regional scholars to develop complementary programs that examine local rural history and dynamics.

And he envisions the exhibit as part of a continuing relationship between his group and smaller towns in the commonwealth. “We want to be active in our rural communities,” he said.

For more information on becoming part of the traveling exhibit, visit

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at


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