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The “Journey Stories” Exhibition Brings Communities Together in Nauvoo, Illinois

This article originally appeared in The Smithsonian Federal/State Partnership website

Thanks to the Illinois Humanities Council and Program Coordinator Mallory Laurel, a group of visionary citizens of Nauvoo, Illinois, came together to use the Smithsonian’s “Journey Stories” exhibition to help create a new sense of community in their town.

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, Nauvoo had witnessed change and tumult in the 19th century. It was the site of major Mormon migration as well as settlement by French utopians, the Icarians. Its tiny population now includes Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, and Methodists as well as several groups of Latter Day Saints. Tumult carried over into the 21st century and the community was on the verge of being torn apart. 

In 2009 the citizens began meeting together on a regular basis, even bringing in a conflict resolution specialist.  Lachlan Mackay of the Community of Christ/Joseph Smith History Site writes that, “Newly formed relationships, and the consensus that Nauvoo’s past is important for our future, made it possible for us to answer the call for applications to host ‘Journey Stories.’” Assisted by Laurel and the IHC, the lead group in Nauvoo formed a collaborative working group to develop an exhibition to accompany “Journey Stories” that would tell Nauvoo’s story. Deborah Gertz Husar of the Quincy Herald-Whig writes about the details that went into making this exhibition happen.

For over a year, these people met together once or twice every week to plan for “Journey Stories” and the Nauvoo exhibition, “Hope for a Better Life in Nauvoo: Mormon, Icarian, German and Catholic.” Kim Orth, Executive Director of the Navoo Tourism Office, says that, “We did this … because these meetings help generate an understanding of our differences and while these differences still exist, we are choosing a different path than the path that was chosen before our generation.”  

“Over the course of a year now, people who not long ago sometimes found it difficult to be in the same room have managed to sit around a table, work together, and learn and tell each other’s stories,” Mackey says.  “Latter Day Saints of several varieties, Icarian descendants, Germans, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, agnostics, atheists, and more, we are Nauvoo.  And like those that came before, we hope for a better life here.”  

In the few weeks “Journey Stories” has been open, the number of visitors has been double the population of Navoo. During the Boo-ti-ful Nauvoo Pumpkin Walk, the weekend of October 27, over 300 visitors enjoyed both the national and local exhibit. The local exhibit will remain on display at the Navoo Tourism Office after “Journey Stories” closes in November. Ron Yokey of the Office of Tourism even anticipates applying to host another Museum on Main Street exhibition through the Illinois Humanities Council in the future. “We have enjoyed working with the Illinois Humanities Council and greatly appreciate their guidance throughout this time period.”  

Federal/State Partnership learned about this story of collaboration and rebirth during the site visit to the Illinois Humanities Council in August 2012.