Museums in Our Community

By: Jake Krumwiede

It should be no surprise for you to find out that I like museums. For my entire professional career, I have worked in museums. Even before that, I volunteered at museums and historic sites. I serve on the board of the Oklahoma Museums Association. When I am vacationing, I stop and visit museums all over the map. As a history lover, it’s just what we do. But, I don’t just like them, I also think they are important to our society, to our state, and perhaps more personally significant, to our local community.

Museums Tell the Stories of our Shared Identity

I just recently moved from the eastern part of Oklahoma, out to Enid on the western side of the state. Though there are still plenty of ties that bind us all together as Oklahomans, I was struck by the many differences I felt between myself and my new neighbors in western Oklahoma. I noticed right away that they were fiercely independent and self-sufficient. Being nearly a hundred miles away from any other metro area, the people in Enid value their local community. It’s much of the reason I immediately fell in love with the area. And it’s also the reason I see the value of local museums, especially the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. Museums like these tell that story, and answer the “why” that our brains are quietly asking when we see other people passionate about something that is new to us.

Tapestries are made up of hundreds and thousands of different smaller strand, all woven together. Up close, we start to see the detail and definition of those many different strands, and we can also step back to better understand why each thread and strand matters so much in the “big picture.” We see both their individual significance and their collective significance. When you absorb and experience the stories being told in a museum, you are doing the same thing. The collective history of this region is told in the many individual stories at the Cherokee Strip Regional Hertiage Center, and if you step back and look, you can see the larger story being told. Through these stories, you can begin to understand the many different groups of people that inhabit this region, and what your place in that history is.

Museums as Tourist Touchpoints 

When I first started working at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum as a college student working on an internship, I was amazed that only approximately a third of our visitors came from the state of Oklahoma. There were always visitors from across the country wandering in to learn about the celebrated humorist. Many of them stopped to visit on impulse. According to a the American Alliance of Museums, seventy-six percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities such as visiting museums, not to mention all the other types of travelers driving through our state, through our individual towns every day. Museums are touchpoints for tourists, who’s understanding of the state might not be anything more than gas stations, drive-thrus, toll booths, and rest stops. Museums are the best way for Oklahomans to tell our stories to the rest of the country, and let other people know why it’s such an awesome and unique place.

Museums as Community Hubs

In the tapestry analogy, sometimes it’s easier for society as a whole to not examine at every individual strand, but rather just step back and see the finished product. On the local level, it’s almost the other way around. In my experience, people aren’t searching for the value in that larger story. They don’t necessarily care what the larger story of northwestern Oklahoma means to someone from Kokomo, Indiana, but rather, they care about the individual stories. Those stories are the stories of our grandmothers and grandfathers. They are stories of their struggles and hardships they faced when they settled the Cherokee Strip after the Land Run of 1893. It’s about the personal connections. They don’t always care about the why there was a need for farming coops, or how agriculture had developed in the region, but rather, they care about that old family bible that’s on display because it belonged to their great-great grandfather who might have had a farm just down the road from the museum.

Museums should be community hubs. Museums house the stories and artifacts that represent who we are as a community, generations removed from the subject matter. Museum should be accessible in our communities. They should be places of comfort that tell good stories. They should be participatory. They should be sociable places where people gather. And, museums should inspire! This is my model for the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center.

I invite you all to understand why it is our history is significant. I invite you all to come and experience everything that will be new and exciting at the Heritage Center this year. As we start a new decade in 2020, I expect you all to see the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center become a regular place where our community gathers.

Jake Krumwiede
Executive Director
Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center