Tell us about your museum: where are you based? What do you do?
The Museum of Work & Culture is located in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and is a division of the Rhode Island Historical Society.
Our museum tells the story of the men, women, and children who came in search of a better life in New England’s mill villages in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our immersive exhibits allow visitors to recreate the immigrant journey from farm to factory, while exploring the spaces where they lived, worked, learned, and worshiped.
Our story is told through the lens of the French-Canadian experience, as Woonsocket was once the most French city in the United States with 70% of residents in 1920 identifying as Franco.
How did you learn about OF/BY/FOR/ALL?
I was following Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog when she posted about the launch of OF/BY/FOR/ALL in May 2018.
What lead you to sign up to OF/BY/FOR/ALL?
OBFA launched shortly after the Museum had concluded its 20th anniversary celebrations. Having spent more than a year reflecting on two decades of work preserving the story of our community’s past, it was the right time to actively think about the Museum’s future.
While Woonsocket has always been marked by diversity, the immigrant groups who call our city home have changed. We wanted to challenge ourselves to think about the work we were doing to reflect and engage our present community and ensure that our programming and interpretation remain relevant to those we serve.
How do you plan on working with / as part of OF/BY/FOR/ALL?
We have pledged to engage 70 recent immigrants to our region who are seeking community connections or a path to citizenship by February 2020.
What challenges do you anticipate experiencing during this process as an individual/ team, and / or more broadly as an organisation?
Right now, we are prepared to learn that the ways we hope to serve and reflect this community may not be what they actually need or want. I believe the more open we are to discovering our preconceptions may be misplaced, the fewer challenges we will face.
We are lucky that as a team we are all truly committed to this process and on the same page of the larger goals we want to achieve. We are working to be flexible on what the path may be to get there.
What transformations do you anticipate taking place for within your museum?
We see this as the first step in a much larger process. Right now we are working with organizations who work directly with this community to host round tables and identify programming opportunities for 2020.
There are exciting possibilities for gallery exhibits, public forums, new educational materials, and cultural celebrations that are in the works. In the long term, we hope to offer citizenship classes, create a team of museum docents who can contextualize the historical story of immigration with their own personal, contemporary experiences, and more.
I believe the most necessary transformation has occurred, which is a shared understanding amongst our museum team to infuse this type of thinking whenever we are considering new opportunities and challenges.
What are you most excited about?
The Museum has always identified itself as a “community museum.” It was created by a group of citizens and officials who were passionate about their city and its people, and who believed that their stories were worthy of celebration and remembrance.
I am excited that this work is truly reflective of that legacy. It ensures that our region’s community — past, present, and future — have a space that honors and shares their stories.
Compiled by Sara Carr
Image credit: Deb Boucher
Culturehive will share more of the Museum of Work and Culture’s journey as they move forward as part of OF/BY/FOR/ALL.| Published:2019