Smithsonian Showcases Innovation in Rural America in New Traveling Exhibition

Simultaneous Tours Begin in Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan
May 15, 2023
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CHildren in Chef Camp T-shirts harvesting vegetables

Photo courtesy Fairbury Improvement Group

Every invention and innovation is someone’s attempt to turn a problem into a solution. The results: old neighborhoods revitalized, historic business districts rejuvenated, new festivals and cultural attractions generated and much more. “Spark! Places of Innovation,” a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program, highlights how innovation has shaped small towns across the country and examines the diversity, ingenuity and tenacity of rural America.

A collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and state humanities councils, MoMS is traveling four copies of “Spark!” on simultaneous yearlong tours of Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan. The exhibition opens May 20 at the West Bonner Library in Priest River, Idaho, and the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library in Alpena, Michigan. It will be open June 17–July 22 at the Ohio River Scenic Byway Visitors Center in Equality, Illinois, and the Boone County Public Library in Burlington, Kentucky. “Spark!” will travel to up to 144 small towns across 24 states throughout the next six years. The full tour itinerary can be viewed online.

“Spark! Places of Innovation” highlights innovation in rural America from the perspective of the people who lived it. The exhibition features stories and images from over 30 communities across the nation gathered through a crowdsourcing initiative. These places of innovation examined their existing assets, characteristics, people, resources and history to tackle the challenges of today with creative solutions and chart new directions for their future. Through photographs, hands-on interactives, objects and videos, “Spark!” reveals the leaders, challenges, successes and future of innovation in each featured town.

The exhibition is organized into four different categories of innovation: social, artistic, technological and cultural. Examples of innovation include the Art & Environment Initiative in Meadville, Pennsylvania, that collaborates with community members through public art projects that revitalize, beautify and help transform shared spaces. And the University of New Mexico (UNM)–Taos Hub of Internet-based Vocation and Education brought together educators, environmentalists and local leaders to create a coworking space, a small business support center and on-site UNM–Taos classes.

Designed for small-town museums, libraries and cultural organizations, “Spark!” will serve as a community meeting place for conversations about innovation. With the support and guidance of state humanities councils, these towns will develop complementary exhibits, host public programs and facilitate educational initiatives to raise people’s understanding about their own history, the joys and challenges of living rural, how change has impacted their community and prompt discussion of goals for the future.

Museum on Main Street (MoMS), a program of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), works with state humanities councils to bring cultural resources and develop capacity around small exhibitions in rural communities across America. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. “Spark!” was inspired by “Places of Invention,” an exhibition developed by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. To learn more about “Spark! Places of Innovation” and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit

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Media Only

Jennifer Schommer


Contacts at State Humanities Councils

Idaho Humanities Council
Jessica Evett
(208) 345-5346;    

Illinois Humanities
Sarah Sommers
(773) 251-4772;

Kentucky Humanities
Kathleen Pool
(859) 257-5932

Michigan Humanities
Estee Schlenner
(517) 372-7770;