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Traveling Smithsonian exhibit opens at TR Public Library

Members of the Three Rivers Public Library leadership and board of trustees cut the ribbon Friday on the “Spark! Places of Innovation” exhibit being hosted at the library until Aug. 19. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

THREE RIVERS — A little piece of one of America’s biggest museum institutions is now open in Three Rivers.

On Friday, the Three Rivers Public Library held a ribbon cutting and private opening for the Smithsonian’s traveling “Spark! Places of Innovation” exhibit being housed at the library, with the exhibit opened to the public the next day.

Open until Aug. 19, the exhibit, mainly housed in the library’s children’s program room, features multiple displays showcasing different innovations in rural towns and cities across the country. The exhibit focuses on four different categories of innovations: technology, heritage, social connections and art, with a variety of supplementary videos, displays and interactive features for patrons to look at to get the whole story.

“Innovation is hugely important,” Three Rivers Public Library Director Bobbi Schoon said. “I think innovation’s important to everybody, but I think it’s even more important to rural communities, because you don’t have the access to the same resources that a bigger community does, but you can still get the same kind of things done when you work around that by using innovation.”

The library is the second library in Michigan to be showcasing this exhibit, made possible via 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. This year is the first year for the exhibit, which will be traveling to a number of different states until 2029.

Schoon said she and her staff were eager to open the exhibit in the Three Rivers community, which had almost two dozen guests visit Friday night for the private opening, with more coming in throughout the weekend.

“We’re really excited, because we had a couple months of work, maybe more than that, leading up to this moment,” Schoon said. “It’s really cool to have the good support of people coming out for this.”

There are plenty of accessibility options for everyone with the exhibit, with QR codes that people can scan with their phone cameras to do virtual tours, headsets for audio tours, as well as placards at each station with different translations of the videos and displays.

Along with the Smithsonian exhibit, a separate exhibit that nearly wraps around the bigger one showcases the innovations and history of Three Rivers and the surrounding area, with everything from postcards and plat maps to the history of downtown, the railroads and churches in the area, along with other trinkets and memories of the city’s past and present. That exhibit was put together via the help of more than 50 community organizations and individuals.

“We put as much together as we could,” Schoon said. “It’s cool that I’ve lived here ever since I was in fourth grade and I found out so many things I didn’t know. Every single organization has their expertise, and they can say, ‘Did you know this?’ and I was like, ‘I did not know that.’ It’s cool to see how their viewpoint and focus can change what you see about your own community.”

A look at some of the displays in the “Spark! Places of Innovation” exhibit at the Three Rivers Public Library, focusing on innovations in rural communities in technology, heritage, social connections and art. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

The local exhibit also features the display of a model of downtown Three Rivers from 1967 put together by local resident Mike Heivilin, which will be displayed from July 8-22, located in the young adult program room, and art from local artists will also be displayed from July 24-Aug. 19.

A few programs with some local flavor will also be presented at the library during the exhibit’s run, including a falconry presentation from local falconer Michael Evans on July 18 from 5:30-6:30 p.m., a “Growing Edible Flowers and Herbs” presentation with farmer and chef Austin Kane from The Huss Project on July 25 from 5:30-6:30 p.m., a showing of the WNIT-TV movie “Then, Now, and Always…The St. Joseph River Story” on Aug. 1 from 6-7 p.m., and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen” presentation by local historian Rebecca Shank on Aug. 16 from 5-6 p.m. celebrating women from the area’s past that helped influence the next generation.

Local businesses are also getting in on the action, with coupons available in the exhibit’s newsletter for discounts at a number of different stops, as a way to attract people to businesses around the city.

Jennifer Rupp, the President and CEO of Michigan Humanities, the organization that gave the grant for TRPL to put on the local exhibit, said having the Smithsonian exhibit in small communities, such as Three Rivers, is a benefit.

“The Museum on Main Street program is designed to bring the Smithsonian Museum to communities of less than 10,000 people, so that’s by design,” Rupp said. “I think a lot of our smaller communities depend on their arts and culture to bring people to town, to educate citizens, to become more civically engaged, and this is a huge piece of that and why this program is so important in our country.”

Overall, Schoon said she hopes people will come get a taste of the Smithsonian in their own backyard through this exhibit.

“It’s an amazing kickoff, and hopefully we’ll get a lot more people through the door and get to share this with the community,” Schoon said. “This has been a long time coming; we’ve been working on this for months, and now that we can enjoy everything, it’s great.”

(Editor’s note: The Three Rivers Commercial-News is a program and exhibit partner for the library’s “Spark! Places of Innovation” exhibit.)

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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