It’s not often one gets to visit with the founding director of one of the country’s most prestigious museums, let alone be cheered on and counseled for one’s endeavors.
And yet, Friday, Sumner Hall hosted a roundtable discussion with National Museum of African American History and Culture Director Lonnie Bunch III to talk about Chestertown’s participation with the March arrival of the Smithsonian’s “The Way We Worked” traveling exhibition.
The photographic exhibition was adapted from an original project created by the National Archives and offers a lens into the shared experience of work, the history of its changes and how work shaped the American experience. By honoring the history of work as the backbone of society nationally and in Kent County, the exhibitions seek to portray commonality and the unifying experiences of life.
The traveling exhibition exploring the history of work in Kent County are sponsored by Maryland Humanities and Smithsonian and the participation is cosponsored by Sumner Hall and Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
Bunch, who visited C.V. Starr Center three years ago has taken a shine to Chestertown. It was during that visit the historian and museum director became interested in the restoration of Sumner Hall and its development into a masterpiece of cultural preservation and learning center. “A museum is a constructed space. This is a sacred space,” he said, noting that the 100-year-old structure embodied the spirit of preserving and curating history.
“How humbled I am to be here,” Bunch said. “It is my hope that a museum is a safe place that people trust, and what you have done here is the best of what this could be—to focus not on what divides us, but what brings us together.”
Bunch spent an hour at the Sumner Hall roundtable listening to and answering questions from student interns, high school teachers, and volunteers involved with researching and creating the regional exhibits that will complement the traveling exhibit. Downtown Chestertown Association, RiverArts, Kent County Historical Society, Sultana Education Foundation, the town of Chestertown, Kent County Public Schools and other local organizations will be contributing to the three-week event.
Bunch praised the direction the individual groups were taking. “In essence, what you have done is to recognize the most important thing a community can do: remember. By remembering you honor the past and help shape the future.”
When asked for his recommendation about how a film-maker could contribute to telling the story of Kent’s past, Bunch said, “start with the present and work your way back because that allows people to see the continuity righty in front of them.”
Bunch, who was appointed as founding director of the Smithsonian’s new museum in 2005, implores museums and historical preservationists to take the long view of their mission to educate. “The key is to figure out how this ripples long after. You have lots of effort and people working together, but the question is what are the things you are going to do that will allow this to live forever.
Sumner Hall and its partner, Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, will host the traveling exhibit along with locally produced exhibitions showcasing research on “The Black Labor Experience in Kent County” from March 31 to May 20.
Smithsonian “The Way We Worked Introduction” introduction
“Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain
Must bring back our mighty dream again.”
–-Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again,” 1938
To find out more about Charles Sumner Hall and the “The Way We Worked” exhibition go here.