The Monhegan Museum preserves and showcases the history of Monhegan Island—a rural island and artist colony located 11 miles off the coast of Maine with a year-round population of about 50. Through its historical and artistic exhibitions and educational programs, the museum serves as an important cultural resource for year-round islanders and visitors alike. In 2020, an NEH CARES grant helped the Monhegan Museum create a digital exhibition, “World War II: On-Island and Abroad.” At the same time, the grant helped the Monhegan Museum overcome challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting staff salaries.
“Being immersed in this research during the pandemic certainly provided some perspective about the struggles we currently face and how they relate to those faced by islanders during the war.”
–Jennifer Pye, Director and Chief Curator, Monhegan Museum
A community-built organization, the Monhegan Museum’s central role in the life of the island extends beyond its significance as a cultural resource. It is the primary employer of year-round islanders and a driving force in the island’s economy. By funding staff salaries over a period of several months, the NEH CARES grant helped families stay on the island, supporting the island community as a whole.
The Monhegan Museum’s digital exhibition, “World War II: On-Island and Abroad” provides insights into life on the island during the period through archival film footage, photographs, works of art, news clippings, memoirs, and other resources. It also documents the changes that occurred during the war and as soldiers finally came home at its end—nearly 14% of the island’s population served during World War II. Since launching, the digital exhibition has been covered by local newspapers and the museum has been contacted by friends and descendants of the island’s WWII veterans. And creating the exhibition had additional benefits for the museum’s staff. According to Jennifer Pye, director and chief curator of the museum, “our work on this exhibition brought us a greater understanding of the impact that the war had on people of Monhegan. Being immersed in this research during the pandemic certainly provided some perspective about the struggles we currently face and how they relate to those faced by islanders during the war.”