News Three Rivers Commercial-News, Penny Saver, & Sturgis Sentinel

TR Library to host traveling Smithsonian exhibit,
local history exhibit this summer

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

THREE RIVERS — A little piece of one of the country’s most notable museum institutions will be making its way to Three Rivers this summer.
“Spark! Places of Innovation,” a brand-new traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the nonprofit Michigan Humanities council, will be displayed at the Three Rivers Public Library for six weeks this summer, from July 8 through Aug. 19. The library will be one of just a handful of libraries throughout the country and the state, to present this exhibit.
According to the Smithsonian, “Spark! Places of Innovation” focuses on the combination of places, people and circumstances that sparks innovation and invention in rural communities. It focuses mainly on art, technology, cultural heritage and social groups, and features stories gathered from diverse rural communities across the nation. The exhibit is inspired by an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“It’s amazing to have this exhibit here in Three Rivers. Some people I know have made it to the Smithsonian, I haven’t yet and I really want to, but to be able to offer this to our community is huge, just a piece of what that looks like,” TRPL Director Bobbi Schoon said.
The exhibit is part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, an outreach program from the institution that partners with state humanities councils to bring the traveling exhibitions, educational resources and programming to small towns across America. The program has been around since 1994, and 2023 will be the first year for “Spark! Places of Innovation,” which will be traveling to a number of different states until 2029.
Michigan is one of four states, along with Idaho, Illinois and Kentucky, that will get the traveling exhibition this year. Three Rivers is one of six locations in the state to receive the exhibition, along with Alpena, East Jordan, Benzonia, Capac and Grand Haven.
Schoon said she heard about the opportunity through an email she got one day about upcoming programs, which had the opportunity to get the Smithsonian exhibit in it.
“It was one that crossed my desk, and I was like, hey, let’s give that a try, that’d be cool if we could do something like that here,” Schoon said. “We put in our application for it, so we filed a grant request, and we talked to them about our history and passion for it.”
The library found out they won the grant to host the exhibit last July, and have been going through the process of learning about the exhibit, how to set it up, and what the exhibit will entail.
“It’s really cool, because they pull out all the Smithsonian stops, so there’s interactive things and all sorts of awesome stuff for us to learn from,” Schoon said.
Along with the exhibit, the library also won a $2,000 grant to help put together its own similar but separate display at the same time, focusing on innovations in Three Rivers and St. Joseph County history along the same lines of the Smithsonian’s exhibit. Schoon said having a locally-centric exhibit to go along with the Smithsonian’s will bring a unique opportunity to the library and people who visit during the exhibition dates.
“[The local exhibit] gives us a really good chance to be like, we do cool things here. We have things in the past people may or may not know about, so let’s talk about that,” Schoon said. “Odds are, we’ll have people from all over come to see this, so we can let a little piece of the community we love shine as well.”
Schoon said herself and Assistant Director Erin Zabonick are actively in the process of gathering information on possible items to be put into the temporary display, and are seeking help from local organizations and the general public in their search for displays.
The library has already reached out to a number of local organizations to gather information on possible items to put on display, including the St. Joseph County Historical Society, the Sue Silliman House Museum, the Huss Project, the George Washington Carver Center, the Michigan State University Extension, the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority, the Three Rivers Fire Department, and the Friends of the Three Rivers Public Library. Schoon said they are looking to start having meetings with the organizations to hash out details and give suggestions for others to reach out to.
While there is time left until the exhibit opens in July, Schoon said people are free to contact the library if they have something unique that could be on display.
“For the local one, that’s more intensive on our end, because we’re open to learning about things we didn’t know,” Schoon said. “We don’t have anything set in mind, because we want to be amazed. We’re kind of learning things as we go along in our community that we didn’t know. We’re having conversations and seeing where we go with it. We just know we want to focus on the areas [the Smithsonian] did for their displays. They allow for a lot of different things, so we’ll see what we can come up with.”
Schoon said anyone that has something they thing may be a good thing to put in the temporary display can call the library at (269) 273-8666 or email She added that they might not be able to fit everything, as they have limited space available in the library’s children’s program room and adjacent office to put items in.
In addition to the displays, Schoon said they are looking to have a number of presentations on local history during the exhibition’s run, including a presentation from a state scholar from the University of Michigan, a presentation on the women of St. Joseph County from the Sue Silliman House Museum, and a possible presentation from the Michigan State University Extension.
“Anything we can do that’s interesting that we can learn about, we’ll try to put on multiple programs across this so we can show innovation,” Schoon said.
Overall, Schoon said once the exhibits open up, people will be able to take away the fact that innovations can happen anywhere, including small, rural areas such as St. Joseph County.
“I think we sometimes take for granted in small towns how amazingly inventive we are. Having this huge Smithsonian display focused on rural innovation and seeing ourselves in the smaller side, just being able to see that it doesn’t matter how big or small a place you live is, you can do amazing things,” Schoon said. “We always love that chance to dream a little – what do you want to do, what do you want to see, what kind of world do you want to live in? I think it gives a good snapshot of, ‘we can do anything.’”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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