Johnson County Museum thinks nationally
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
An exhibit at the Johnson County Museum of History features some nostaglia-inducing items.
The Kansas City Star
When thinking about the suburbs of Johnson County, what comes to mind?
The color beige, maybe?
For some, the lyrics of folk singer Malvina Reynolds may come to mind:
Little boxes on the hillside/ Little boxes made of ticky tacky/ Little boxes on the hillside/ Little boxes all the same.
While others might think of Thomas Johnson — a slave owner after whom the county is named — and his life’s mission to assimilate the Shawnee Indians into a more “civilized society.”
Both Reynolds’ song and Johnson’s story play a part in the Johnson County Museum’s current exhibit “Seeking the Good Life,” a chronological look at the suburbs in Johnson County.
But there’s more to the story of Johnson County. So much more that the staff at the Johnson County Museum wants to build a national museum dedicated to the subject.
“People think the suburbs are all the same. For example, when you drive down 135th Street, that’s Anywhere U.S.A. But for some reason millions and millions of Americans have chosen to live this way. Why is that?” said Andy Davis, education assistant at the Johnson County Museum. “If we can get people to stop, think and reassess, we’ve done our job.”
The story of the suburbs is not merely about housing. It’s about communities, which through the past 170 years have dealt with issues of race, culture and economics. Most suburbs, such as Johnson County, were built in the 1940s as the demand for housing increased when soldiers returned home from World War II, but Mindi Love, director of the Johnson County Museum, said the first suburb appeared in New York in 1840.
“It’s not an event that can be bookmarked in time. It’s an evolving story,” Love said. “When you start talking about the issues and the stories, people start opening up and have a better appreciation for what this musum will be about.”
Plans have been in the works since 2006 to move the museum from its current location at 6305 Lackman Road in Shawnee to the vacant 70,000-square-foot building at 8788 Metcalf Ave., which once housed the King Louie West ice rink. The museum is asking people for old photos of the ice rink.
Often, suburbia is thought of as a white phenomenon, a homogenous story of racial exclusivity, the rise of the middle class and escape from dirty urban cities. However, the evolving story of suburbia can be seen in a drive down the Metcalf corridor from Interstate 35 to 135th Street, Love said. Drivers see the rise and fall of commercial and residential real estate and property that is no longer in demand.
Issues such as segregation and blockbusting may no longer exist, but now the county must deal with poverty, redevelopment, diversity and vibrancy — issues Love believes need community discussion and involvement. The new museum will hold a 200-seat auditorium, the Suburban Policy Forum, as a place for that discussion and involvement.
Johnson County’s white population stands at 86 percent, two percentage points higher than the state’s average but 13 percent more than the national average, according to the Census Bureau. From 2000 to 2009, the county saw a 150 percent increase in poverty — which stands at 7.1 percent. This increase was the second largest in the six counties making up the Kansas City area, according to the United Community Services of Johnson County.
“More decision are made that impact residents’ lives on the local level than on the national level. If people are more engaged, we will be a better community,” Love said. “Our goal is to get people really thinking about the place they live and shaping it how they want it to be.”
The museum’s strategic plan calls for two phases. The first phase will be to relocate the museum, as is, into the new building at a cost of $5 million to $8 million, using 30,000 square feet of the new facility.
After the museum raises $10 million, it will seek $15 million from the county to begin the second phase, which will pave the way for the National Museum of Suburbia and Suburban Policy Forum. The goal is to garner designation from the U.S. Congress and become the only museum in the United States that is dedicated to suburbia.
The recession has delayed the project, which Love hoped would be open last year. Now, the goal is for late 2014 or early 2015.
With a price tag of $23 million, Love said, the county will save $15 million by not having to build from the ground up.
“We will still be telling the story of Johnson County. And a big part of that story is the growth of the suburbs,” Davis said. “Johnson County provides a very good story. The new museum will take a step further and tell the national story.”
Read more here: http://joco913.com/news/johnson-county-museum-thinks-nationally/#storylink=cpy
Read Full Post »