MoMS “New Harmonies” exhibit tugged on a lot of heart strings in Mars Hill, North Carolina. The community welcomed their first traveling exhibit with open arms, and after such a resounding impact, it was tough to let go.
Installed at Mars Hill College, the exhibit became an integral part of the students’ lives. Many helped to assemble the show, acted as docents, and “built their lives around the exhibition while it was here,” reports Program Coordinator Dr. Karen Paar. To accompany to the exhibit, the college created a class called “Introduction to Public History” conducted by Dr. Kathy Newfont, which included lessons in museum studies, a field trip to Raleigh, and a section detailing archival work (taught by Dr. Paar). The class was such an instant favorite among students that the school will likely offer the course in permanent rotation. Students “were just so honored and proud to have a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition on our campus, and some even described it as a defining experience of their undergraduate careers,” says Paar. And the setting helped to draw in more people, and many "who generally would not be comfortable coming to a college campus seemed to feel more welcome if their children had already been there to the exhibition.”
And like music itself, the exhibit’s programming was a harmony of entertainment, learning, self-expression, and pride. Museum visitors could decorate their own CD covers, and their artwork was then displayed on a wall—culminating in a vibrant mosaic enticing visitors to come back to see what new tiles had been added. According to Paar, one little boy “came every weekend with his father. He drew a new CD cover each visit, and he would tell the docents on his way out the door, ‘See ya next Sunday!’” Roger Howell, fiddle tune collector, hosted another program for children and impressed the importance of keeping local traditions alive. He said, “I learned these tunes from the ‘old people,’ but I guess I’m the ‘old people’ now!” And Howell was one of the local greats—along with Arvil Freeman, Bobby Hicks, and Paul Crouch—to play a free concert starring the area’s fiddle traditions. Thanks to these big names, the North Carolina Humanities Council awarded a grant to have the concert filmed, with hopes for eventual broadcasting on public television.
But eventually, “New Harmonies” struck its last note in Mars Hill, and many were sad to see it go. According to Paar, one young girl, a daughter of a docent, attended nearly every event and tagged along with Mom during some docent shifts. When her mother told her “New Harmonies” was leaving, the girl burst into tears. But for the consolation of this young this girl (and others!), the success of this exhibit has Mars Hill tuning up for future shows.
-- Alexandra Charleston, Museum on Main Street, Washington, DC