Nov. 9, 2012
Students launch exhibit about folk music at history museum
Updated Nov. 30, 2012
History students at Northwest Missouri State University gained firsthand experience this fall with planning and installing an exhibit that opened to the public in November and included a folk concert.
The exhibit, “The People and Places of Folk Music,” was the creation of students in History of American Folklife, a course taught at Northwest by Dr. Elyssa Ford, assistant professor of history.
The exhibit’s opening night, Nov. 16, featured Ryan Spearman, a singer-songwriter based in St. Louis, performing in the Studio Theater at the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts on the Northwest campus. Afterward, a free shuttle service transported patrons to the Nodaway County Historical Society Museum, located at 110 Walnut St., where Spearman led a discussion about folk music.
“Folk music is not only something to listen to and enjoy, but a way to connect to the heritage and history of people,” said Brent Trout, a graduate student from O’Fallon who is in the history class. “The exhibit offers a look at many different types of music genres, but they all connect back to the most important element of music -- the people.”
While the course is required for Northwest’s public history minor, Ford, while seeking to make the course more practical for students, chose to combine studies of folk music and museums. In addition to having the students read about and debate varied types of folk music, she arranged for the history students to learn skills from other experts on campus as well as professional exhibit designers.
In addition to learning Photoshop, the history students spent time with instructors and students in Northwest’s communication and mass media department learning audio editing software. The class also received guidance from exhibit designers at the National Archives in Kansas City and the Kansas Historical Society museum in Topeka, Kan.
“In today’s world it is increasingly important to be able to work with other people and rely on the skillsets and abilities that various people bring to the table,” Ford said. “The students in this class had to stretch their comfort zones by learning design programs like Photoshop and audio editing software like ProTools. This ability to learn new skills, and especially to learn new computer software, is exactly what students will be required to do once they graduate and enter the professional work environment.”
Continuing that collaboration, Northwest's student-led television station, KNWT, and advanced audio students recorded Spearman's performance and will air it at a later date.
"It was recorded live and then re-edited in post production," said Dr. Jonathan Pluskota, an assistant professor of mass media who also advises the audio students. "We transformed that space into a neat venue with coffee house seats and riser seating. If this goes well, we will be looking to continue this in the next trimester."
Students designed the exhibit from conceptualization to its installation. They were divided into seven different groups of three to four students each, and those groups decided on the area of folk music they wanted to focus. While each group designed an exhibit panel, the students also created interactive components and composed lesson plans that will be available for teachers on the museum’s website
The exhibit focuses on topics including ragtime musicians from Missouri, Appalachian music, Kansas City jazz and modern indie folk. It also highlights some of the genre’s most famous personalities, including Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and the Lomaxes, a father-son duo who played an important role in recording folk music.
Some students are using the experience to apply skills they’ve learned working summer internships. For others, the exhibit is a new opportunity to learn the ins and outs of installing a museum exhibit.
“I’ve never had any exposure to working at a museum,” said Trout, who is pursuing his master’s degree in history. “This has opened my horizons to working in museums. We’ve toured museums and looked at construction and had to account for all of the aspects of creating an exhibit.”
The Missouri Arts Council provided funding for Spearman’s performance. Northwest’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Melvin D. and Valorie G. Booth College of Business and Professional Studies provided funding for Spearman’s performance as well as the Nov. 16 event to celebrate the exhibit’s opening.
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Northwest Missouri State University
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