Press Release

Hillsboro to host Smithsonian traveling exhibit celebrating rural innovation July 29 – September 2

Hillsboro is one of the seven Illinois towns featured in the national exhibition.

CHICAGO, JULY 26, 2023Illinois Humanities is pleased to announce that Hillsboro will be the next Illinois town to feature Spark! Places of Innovation, the newest traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program. Spark! will be at the Hillsboro Public Library from July 29 – September 2 as part of Hillsboro’s 200th birthday celebration, “Past, Present, and Future.” Hillsboro is also one of the seven Illinois towns featured in the National exhibit for their spirit of innovation alongside Equality – where the Illinois tour of Spark! launched in June – Chatsworth, Rushville, Marshall, Atlanta, and Fairbury.

Hillsboro’s bustling, historic downtown area faced daunting challenges when coal mining and other industries central to the community’s economy declined in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Spark! exhibition highlights Hillsboro residents’ remarkably successful efforts to revitalize their downtown and foster new economic opportunities. These have included implementing a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program that helped Hillsboro businesses renovate building façades, partnering with a regional internet provider to bring high-speed fiber to the entire town, and offering incentives for entrepreneurship and small business development.

Imagine Hillsboro is hosting Spark! alongside a companion exhibit that examines the history of locally-owned newspapers and how they’ve covered and interpreted significant local historical events. Visitors of the free exhibition will also have a chance to attend the town’s 2023 Old Settlers Days celebration on August 5, 6, 9, and 10, walk the downtown area featuring the Orpheum Theatre, local shops, restaurants, and more, and join in celebrating Hillsboro’s Bicentennial.

“We couldn’t be prouder to premier this national traveling Smithsonian exhibition right here in Illinois,” says Illinois Humanities Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon. “Not only does the exhibit prominently feature our rural communities, but each tour stop highlights beautiful examples of the state’s spirit of invention and resourcefulness. Since each site features unique programming and local stories, it’s a great excuse to visit the show at more than one location.”

Spark! Places of Innovation will be at the Hillsboro Public Library, 420 South Main Street, Hillsboro, IL, July 29 – September 2. For information on exhibition hours, tours, and local events, please call (314) 882-5714.

The exhibition will continue its Illinois tour through spring 2024, with upcoming stops in Chatsworth, Rushville, Durand, Havana, and Marshall. Illinois Humanities partners with the Smithsonian to bring world-class, multimedia Smithsonian exhibitions to small towns and rural communities in Illinois. Through partnerships with organizations local to each community, every tour stop will showcase the town’s homegrown stories, local events, and history.

Exhibition Schedule


About Illinois Humanities

Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community, and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds. Stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.

About Museum on Main Street

Museum on Main Street is a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and state humanities councils, including Illinois Humanities. It not only enables Illinoisans to experience Smithsonian-produced exhibitions in their own communities but also gives the local cultural organizations that host these exhibitions opportunities to enhance their roles within their communities and regions, attract new audiences and volunteers, expand their knowledge and resource bases, and develop skills that can be applied toward future exhibitions and programs.