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Rural history encompassed in a traveling exhibit

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

By Loren Lindler

Stories of rural Georgia vary from community to community and from decade to decade. In an effort to share the stories and preserve history, Georgia Humanities partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to bring ​Crossroads: Change in Rural America​, to rural communities in Georgia. By visiting the traveling exhibition, attendees can learn more about how rural communities are changing but still hold a special place in the hearts of so many.

Thomaston ribbon cutting. Photo courtesy of Rick Brozek.

Crossroads ​will tour throughout Georgia between August 24, 2019, and June 6, 2020. The traveling exhibit will feature stops in Thomaston, McRae-Helena, Monticello, Cuthbert, Summerville, and Blue Ridge. Exhibits will be stationed at each location for six weeks. While there, host communities showcase the exhibition and will develop complementary exhibits full of public programs and educational opportunities. Those in rural communities will be able to gain a better understanding about their own history, how change has impacted their community, and discuss goals for the future.

Crossroads approaches change in rural America from a wide variety of angles: historical, cultural, demographic, economic, says Laura McCarty, president of Georgia Humanities. “It’s like a mosaic; it tells the national story through a variety of specific, local stories. The photography, film clips, music, and interactives also appeal to visitors of differing ages and learning styles.”

Thomaston exhibit attendees. Photo courtesy of Rick Brozek.

The exhibit serves smaller, rural communities with content and programs from “our nation’s attic”, as the Smithsonian is sometimes called. Prior topics have included foodways, music traditions, sports traditions, the World War II homefront, and images of the future from the past. The ​Crossroads​ exhibit explores how rural American communities have changed over time, organized around the themes of identity, community, persistence, the land, and managing change.

“My favorite part of this exhibit is how seamlessly it is able to blend the local history of the host communities in with the wonderfully-curated national story told on the exhibit panels,” says Davis Winkie, graduate research assistant with University of West Georgia and Center for Public History and Georgia Humanities. “People in these communities are coming out to this exhibit to see their own history enshrined alongside that told by the Smithsonian.”

Ann McCleary, Professor of History, Coordinator of the Public History and Museum Studies Programs, Co-Director of the Center for Public History at the College of Arts and Humanities at University of West Georgia, who is a Georgia state scholar also co-curated the exhibit on a national level, which was quite an honor for her and a big benefit for the state of Georgia too.

Exhibit in McRae-Helena. Photo courtesy of Telfair Snapshots.

“People are interested to learn about the ups and downs that are facing rural Georgia now,” says Arden Williams, Smithsonian Tour Coordinator. Crossroads ​encourages visitors to reflect on the past and present of rural Georgia, to think about what our rural communities mean today, and to consider how to prepare for and solve the challenges and opportunities of the future.

“In Thomaston, I saw hundreds of visitors spend hours lingering in the exhibit area browsing and talking about the local history material that site coordinator Lori Showalter Smith had put together to supplement the main exhibit,” says Winkie. “Crossroads simultaneously tells a relevant national story and gives a powerful platform to show rural host communities that their story matters, too.”

The Museum on Main Street will be making a number of stops, including:

  • Oct. 12 - Nov. 23, 2019 | Mcrae-Helena | Telfair Center for the Arts

  • Dec. 7, 2019 - Jan. 11, 2020 | Moticello | Monticello-Jasper Visitor Center

  • Jan. 18 - Feb. 29, 2020 | Cuthbert | Andrew College

  • March 7 - April 18, 2020 | Summerville | Summerville Train Depot

  • April 25 - June 6, 2020 | Blue Ridge | Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association

For more information, please visit


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