About Spark! Places of Innovation

Spark! Places of Innovation, the newest Museum on Main Street exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Illinois Humanities, will tour Illinois from June 17, 2023, to March 29, 2024. Organizations in seven communities statewide will host the exhibition and will produce companion exhibitions and public programs relating the subject matter of Spark! to their own local history and culture.

Spark! Places of Innovation highlights innovation in rural America from the perspectives of people who have lived it. Their words, images, and experiences, gathered through an ambitious crowdsourcing initiative, are the heartbeat of the exhibition. The communities featured in Spark! – including seven small towns in Illinois – have enhanced their vitality through innovations in fields such as technology, agriculture, economic development, education, and the arts. Explore the diversity, ingenuity, and tenacity of rural Americans in Spark! Places of Innovation.

Spark! examines the distinctive combinations of places, people, and circumstances that generate innovation and invention in rural communities. Inspired by an exhibition at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Spark! features stories gathered from a wide variety of communities across the nation. Photographs, interactive components, objects, videos, and augmented reality give viewers a multilayered experience, revealing the leaders, challenges, successes, and future of innovation in each featured town.

Spark! Places of Innovation serves as a springboard for diverse local programming in the humanities, sciences, and arts. It inspires visitors to learn how innovation has shaped their own communities and how they may be innovators themselves. Community members will join in conversation about their history, present, and future.

For questions or more information, please contact Matt Meacham, Program Manager for Statewide Engagement, at matt.meacham@ilhumanities.org

Featured Image: Big city chefs come to Fairbury, IL to learn farm techniques firsthand at Chef Camp. Photo courtesy Fairbury Improvement Group.

Tour Schedule

Spark! Places on Innovation will visit seven Illinois towns over the course of nine months.

Learn about each stop on the tour and how to visit the exhibition below.

Tour Schedule:

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.

Periodically, Illinois Humanities facilitates a statewide tour of a traveling exhibition on a significant theme in American culture produced by the Smithsonian Institution. Illinois Humanities invites cultural organizations in small communities and rural counties with populations fewer than 25,000 (with priority given to communities with populations fewer than 10,000) throughout the state to apply to host the exhibition. Six organizations are selected to do so.

Each host organization displays the Smithsonian-produced exhibition for six weeks. It also produces a locally focused companion exhibition linking the subject matter of the Smithsonian-produced exhibition to the history and culture of its own community or region. Additionally, it presents public programs that engage audiences and participants with the topics and themes of the exhibitions. Through individual consultation and group workshops, Illinois Humanities staff members and consultants work closely with each host organization for a year prior to opening as they plan and prepare.

A Museum on Main Street exhibition requires significant investments of time, energy, and creativity from the host organizations and their community partners. Host organizations and communities reap significant benefits from their efforts, however, and often continue to do so long after the exhibition has concluded.

For more information about the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program, visit museumonmainstreet.org. For more about the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, visit sites.si.edu/s/.

Overview & Frequently Asked Questions

Past Exhibitions and Towns

Illinois Humanities has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service since 1994, bringing the following exhibitions to communities throughout Illinois.