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Michigan History Museum flips the script with new exhibit

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The everyday objects stored in closets, basements and thrift stores across Michigan have a story to tell that’s more interesting than meets the eye. For its new exhibit, "The Secret Lives of Michigan Objects," the Michigan History Museum highlights the lesser known tales of household items until May 2020. It is also asking Michigan citizens to enter into conversation about what to display.  

“It’s about the things everybody owns and how they’re part of history,” said Suzanne Fischer, director of the Michigan History Museum. “It really gives us opportunities to engage everyone in the storytelling process.”  

The idea came from a prototyping workshop with Kathy McLean, principal of museum consulting firm Independent Exhibitions. It was anchored around the concept that “this is a story that is not finished and you can be a part of telling it,” Fischer said.  

Part of the conversation between the museum and its visitors is a series of display walls asking for input on each exhibit, a vote for what odd item in the museum’s stores to display next and a display case left open for visitors to photograph and display their own piece of history in the exhibit.  

Curated displays thus far include a recreated ‘70s Michigan basement complete with an Atari, shag carpeting, empty Vernors bottles, board games and a record player. The exhibit will eventually add wood paneling to complete the aesthetic, Fischer added. Each artifact was part of the museum’s collection before going on display.  

Also on display is a room dedicated to all things green in the museum’s collection. Here, the items span generations and are completely at random except for the color. Some items include a vintage green stapler, Geiger counter and recreated arsenic wallpaper.  

The museum is also calling on Michigan residents to post on social media about the household items they think are worthy for the museum with the hashtag #thisbelongsinamuseum.

“There is definitely a feeling in museums that we want to have the last word on things and we want to be polished,” Fischer said. “We are really interested in this idea of sharing authority and engaging with lots of people in a relatively level playing field.”  

"The Secret Lives of Michigan Objects"

Michigan History Museum

$6 Adults, $4 Seniors, $2 Children, Free on Sundays

9 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. Monday – Friday

10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Michigan History Center

702 W Kalamazoo St., Lansing, MI 

(517) 335-2573

www.michigan.gov/mhc

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