Storied Places from Other Perspectives
Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada through our theme for 2017, “Storied Places,” which explores the connection people have with their “place.” What is the meaning we give to place, and what is the meaning that our place gives to our lives?
This theme, and our exhibit on display now in the Gerhard Ens Gallery, explores the dynamics of the historical relationship Mennonites created with their local place in Manitoba. That exploration, however, is only a small part of the inspiration and the intent behind “Storied Places.” As Curator, part of my role on the MHV team is to think strategically about the museum’s role in the community and about how the Curatorial Department can move this work forward through our exhibits and research. A large part of my strategy behind “Storied Places” was to leverage our own exhibit and use it as an opportunity to reach out to the community in new ways. By initiating a conversation about why “place” is so meaningful in our lives as individuals and drawing as many different perspectives as possible into this discussion, we have been able to enter into the life of our community in a greater way.
Some of the key connections we have been able to foster through “Storied Places” this year are with schools in Steinbach and the surrounding areas. Some of these partnerships were continuations of connections already begun. We have enjoyed working with Paul Reimer’s Advanced Photography class at Steinbach Regional Secondary School for about five years, and that relationship continued this year with their exhibit now on display in our Art Hall. We also embarked on new partnerships with Todd Peters’ Advanced Photography class at Landmark Collegiate and Jennifer Armstrong’s grade five and six class at Landmark Elementary, whose exhibits are on display in our Auditorium.
From my perspective, these student exhibits have been one of the most exciting developments in working with “Storied Places” thus far in 2017. The exhibit process we went through with each class started with visiting the students in their classrooms to discuss the theme and our intended approach to it in our own exhibit at the museum. Then came the exciting part, where we opened the discussion to the students and got to hear their perspectives on what makes their community unique. What were the stories they had to tell us?
The typical stereotype of younger people is that they are not engaged with or very much interested in history or museums, in discussing the merits of their community, or in exploring and giving voice to the emotional connections they feel to “home.” What we see in this year’s sixty-five photo essays in the student exhibits, however, is exactly the opposite.
The students explore the historical life of their communities through buildings, like the family home or the corner store that no longer exist because they have been torn down, or the beauty inherent in dilapidated buildings and farm equipment, leftovers from the past that most people overlook. They discuss the role of sports - on the volleyball court, the hockey rink, or pick-up basketball on the tarmac - in building and forming their sense of self and community. They focus on the ways that cherished places on family farmsteads, visited over the course of their childhoods, have shaped who they are as individuals. Some of these significant places are the backyards and parks where they forged relationships with siblings and friends; others are the everyday places like tree houses and garage workshops that taught them what the concepts “home” and “family” mean. Not only have the students engaged in these very personal topics, but they have allowed us into their unique perspectives in a very public way. Their exhibits allow us to share in their experiences and insights into the places, people, and histories that continue to shape who they are as people.
Our experience of working with the students in Steinbach and Landmark on our “Storied Places” theme this year has strengthened my conviction that MHV’s role in the community is much more than the work we do on our physical campus. Our outdoor village and the exhibits we produce are essential to who we are as a museum; however, that is not where our work ends. We can be a venue for discussion and exploration, using history as a vehicle to cultivate community and to engage people – of all ages and all backgrounds – in new perspectives and understandings of our world and the people around us.
Calendar of Events
September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival
September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day
September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days
October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show