Showcasing 300 Years of Agriculture and Immigration in the Chippewa Valley
The largest history museum between Minnesota’s Twin Cities and Madison, Wisconsin the Chippewa Valley Museum is a popular cultural resource for its region. Since 1977, the NEH has supported the Chippewa Valley Museum, providing funding for permanent and traveling exhibitions and for preserving the museum’s material culture collections. This funding has included challenge grants that helped the museum raise an additional $1 million. Additionally, in 2020, the NEH awarded the museum a CARES grant to help it manage the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[NEH funding] has allowed us to do projects that we would not have been able to do locally… we simply cannot do them on our annual operating budget… and these larger ones [exhibitions] have allowed us to look at the national level, think about scholarship, and do good history… in a region of the state that doesn’t provide a lot of museum opportunities.”
The NEH provided critical funding for the Chippewa Valley Museum’s two permanent exhibitions: Changing Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley and Farm Life: A Century of Change for Farm Families and Their Neighbors. Both are especially popular with school groups: the museum welcomes about 5,000 students per year. Changing Currents, the museum’s newest exhibition, covers 300 years of Chippewa Valley history. It begins with the arrival of the Ojibwe Indians and European settlers in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries and continues to the present day, with the arrival of Latino immigrants and refugees from around the world. Farm Life acknowledges the region’s agricultural history while exploring modern farming; visitors can examine a farm’s henhouse, dairy barn, and machine shed, as well as a dance hall, church, and other structures that represent life in rural communities. The museum’s popular Object Theater, created with NEH funding and built to accompany Farm Life, uses oral histories to tell the story of farm life from a first-person perspective. Farm Life proved so popular and engaging that the Mid-America Arts Alliance repackaged it for the NEH on the Road program, through which it traveled the country for several years.
The museum’s collection of more than 22,000 historical artifacts is critical to these exhibitions, and the NEH has been a vital partner in ensuring that the collection is preserved for future generations. It provided funding for a major gallery renovation and the establishment of environmentally-controlled collections storage—the behind-the-scenes projects that make exhibitions like Farm Life and Changing Currents possible. Cumulatively, says Carrie Ronnander, director of the museum, NEH funding “has allowed us to do projects that we would not have been able to do locally… we simply cannot do them on our annual operating budget… and these larger ones [exhibitions] have allowed us to look at the national level, think about scholarship, and do good history… in a region of the state that doesn’t provide a lot of museum opportunities.”