Reaching Communities: National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service

Today’s post comes from Jennifer Johnson, curator in the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES).

On December 21, 2018, NATES program manager Dee Harris and I went to the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka, Kansas, where one of our traveling exhibits, “Over There” was on display in the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery. It was a treat to see it because we don’t usually see NATES exhibits as they tour.

“Over There: Americans Abroad in World War I” exhibit at the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery, 2018. (National Archives)

What is NATES?

The National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service, established in Kansas City in 2016, provides a variety of traveling exhibits to museums and libraries across the country. We are part of the Exhibits Office in the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. Our framed document and photography shows are quite popular. They are very accessible cost-wise and travel easily, and we encourage venues to add from their own collections.

Exhibit tours generally last three years and have 12 to 15 host venues. The fees generated from our traveling exhibits help fund future exhibits; most NATES exhibits journey all over the United States without NARA staff. Even if we do not visit the venues that host our exhibits, we establish communication, maintain a relationship, and provide support for them from the moment they express interest to the moment they are shipping the show to the next venue.

Another of our products is an educational pop-up display that we ship to libraries, museums, schools, and community centers nationwide. Our first display was for the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights in 2016. Two thousand “Bill of Rights and You” displays were shipped to cultural and educational institutions in all 50 states, reaching millions of people.

Westfield High School with Social Studies teacher Brett Curtis, NJ
Social Studies teacher Brett Curtis at Westfield High School (New Jersey) with “The Bill of Rights and You,” 2016. (National Archives)

We are producing our second pop-up exhibit to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2020. We already have commitments for all available displays and will ship them out later this year.

Since 2016, NATES has provided a variety of traveling exhibits for cultural institutions around the country. One of our photography exhibitions, “Over There: Americans Abroad in World War I,” was on display this winter in an art gallery within a community library.

“Over There” on Display in Topeka, Kansas

“Over There” shipped from Oaklawn, Illinois, to Topeka, where Sabatini Gallery staff installed it and worked with librarians, educators, and the community to connect to our exhibition. The walls framing the entrance to the gallery were beautifully blanketed in homemade poppies. Staff initiated this public project to create poppies to honor the 1,977 Kansas soldiers who died in World War I.

More than 3,000 poppies (fabric, cross-stitch, crochet, paper) were sent in by schools, nursing homes, an Alzheimer’s group, the crochet guild, and other groups. In the gallery, staff built a trench and added World War I artifacts from the Kansas National Guard, the Air Combat Museum, and a local collector. They showed World War I films in their theater, hosted events around World War I books, and provided three virtual reality games targeted for three different age groups.

Poppies in honor of fallen World War I Kansas soldiers, Alice C. Sabatini Gallery, 2018. (National Archives)

Not only were National Archives photographs on display this winter in this amazing community resource, but every visitor had the opportunity to “see” the National Archives. Since “Over There” started touring in April 2017, it and NATES exhibits have represented the National Archives in 33 cities across the United States.

To learn more about the NATES program, visit our website.


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