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MoMS' Water/Ways Flows into New York State

April 24, 2019 7:00 AM | Anonymous

Museum on Main Street has been part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition service visiting communities across the United States since 1994. Its exhibitions have traveled to 48 states, have been hosted by over 1,400 communities, and are used to kick-start local exhibitions and programming. These exhibitions are specifically designed for smaller museums in rural communities with an average population of just over 14,000. After visiting just about every state, Museum on Main Street or MoMS is making its New York State debut with Water/Ways starting this June and ending in April, 2020 as it travels across the state to six different communities.

Water/Ways began in 2016 and dives into water as an essential component of life on our planet; environmentally, culturally, and historically. This exhibition takes a deep look at water’s impact on our lives, how it powers the environment, impacts climate, and how it physically shapes and sculpts the landscape around us. Water/Ways asks how Americans use water, how is water represented in our society, how do we use water a symbol, how does water unite communities, and how does water affect the way we live, work, worship, create and play?

These questions are addressed over five free-standing exhibition panels that feature photographs, text, and objects, with one video monitor, two touch screen interactive computer kiosks, and an iPad-based WaterSim American interactive on a stand. Water/Ways has travelled to states like Florida, Illinois, South Carolina, Arizona, Washington, Oklahoma, and is now it is en route to New York State.

It seems rather fitting that the first MoMS exhibit in New York State is Water/Ways. New York has more than 7,600 freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, as well as portions of two Great Lakes and over 70,000 miles of rivers and streams flow within New York’s boundaries. Water has created communities, and economic power like the Erie Canal’s 363 miles that gave New York City’s port an incomparable advantage over all other U.S. port cities and guided the state’s 19th century political and cultural dominance. Water/Ways will travel across New York to six different communities to share stories of how their waterways contributed to their growth, development, and connection.

To deepen the connection that water has to our communities, MANY is partnering with the New York Folklore Society who will help capture oral stories and histories by offering partnerships with folklorists. These folklorists will work to help capture stories about waters’ deeper connection spiritually and culturally to these communities. These oral histories and stories about water and its effect on life, work, spirituality will help each of the six host communities further create a unique exhibition alongside the Smithsonian’s that will tie larger, more national ideas and concepts to a personal and local level.  

Starting this June, Water/Ways will mark the Bicentennial of the Erie Canal with its first stop at the Erie Canal Museum. Showcasing the only remaining canal weighlock building in the United States, the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, New York collects and preserves Canal material, and provides educational experiences that champion an appreciation and understanding of the Erie Canal's transforming effects on the past, present, and future. The Museum is located directly adjacent to the route of the original Erie Canal, which transported goods, people, and ideas across New York State and into the Midwest and was known as the "Mother of Cities" due to its enormous impact on the growth and development of communities including Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Chicago. Their Water/Ways programs will help improve the public’s understanding of technology and engineering related to water, how the Canal affects the natural position of water for different purposes, how it manages water, and how it transported people, goods, and ideas.

Opportunities to see Water/Ways will continue as the exhibition moves around the state from the Village of Aurora in the Finger Lakes, along the Erie Canal to the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, the Chapman Museum in Glens Falls, the Hudson River Maritime Museum, and ending at the East Hampton Historical Society on the eastern tip of Long Island. Each host site will expand on the Water/Ways exhibit to incorporate direct links between water and its impact on their community.

In the Village of Aurora, a partnership between the Aurora Masonic Center, the Village of Aurora Historical Society, and Long Library at Wells College has formed to share their unique water stories that surround Cayuga Lake. Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes in Central New York. Since the withdrawal of the glaciers, the lake has provided important resources to dwellers on and near its shores, from paleo-Indian hunters to the Cayuga people of the Haudenosaunee whose orchards and village, “Peachtown,” was here before the Revolutionary War. By 1789 and the arrival of the Euro-American settlements in this area, the unique climate provided by Cayuga Lake led to the rapid growth of wealth from the land and lake shipping thrived. The Erie Canal brought Aurora’s wool, grain, and fruit to national and world markets. These advancements have contributed to the Aurora we know today as a dual Village of Aurora and Wells College National Historic District, as well as a tourist destination in the Finger Lakes. Like other communities throughout the Finger Lakes, farming is a significant part of the economy and water quality remains an ongoing issue. All of which will be explored during their Water/Ways exhibitions and programming.

The Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village in the Western Region of New York State, is located at the confluence of the original Erie Canal and Tonawanda Creek. BNHV will use Water/Ways to further connect their community by inviting residents to share their family’s own water story and contribute photographs, stories, and other memorabilia. Their upcoming Farm to Table exhibit will highlight the impact of local water resources, including the Erie Canal, local bodies of water, and Niagara Falls, on agriculture and local ways of life.

Water has been an important factor in the history surrounding the area of the Chapman Historical Museum. Its rivers and lakes offered transportation for armies during the French & Indian War and during the American Revolution. The Hudson River provided water power for the lumber and paper industries, and later, the generation of electricity. During the Water/Ways exhibition, the Chapman Historical Museum will present multidisciplinary programs that deal with three key waterways in the region around Glens Falls: The Hudson River, The Champlain Canal and the Lake George/Champlain watershed. These waterways are crucial to the region, providing drinking water for municipalities and serving as the main attraction for tourism.

Located on the historic Rondout Creek, the Hudson River Maritime Museum collects and displays four centuries of technological, industrial, and ecological innovations in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Kingston’s location, halfway between Albany and New York City, allowed the city to flourish during the time when coal was the dominant fuel source in use. Steamboat transportation and commercial fishing expanded simultaneously, and the Rondout Creek thrived as an economic driver and premier tourist attraction for the Mid-Hudson Valley.

East Hampton Town, the home to the East Hampton Historical Society, is fundamentally linked to water and its power to move and sustain people. The East Hampton Historical Society documents the history of the bay-men and fishermen who lived and worked on the water for decades- clamming, fishing, and whaling. The East Hampton Historical Society focuses on the rich history of Native Americans using and honoring the waterways long before European settlement, and eventually teaching Europeans successful methods of whaling and how to navigate the waters in canoes. Today, East Hampton is defined by its proximity to the ocean. It's location as a tourist destination and a residential area allows them to expand education about the importance of waterways, teaching the next generation about pollution and conservation.

The Museum Association of New York is working with OnCell to create an exclusive New York Water/Ways app where you can learn more about each host site, their specific interpretations, programs, images, videos and more.

The arrival of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street exhibition to New York State not only marks the first MoMS exhibition for New York, but opens the door for future MoMS exhibitions and further collaborations and partnerships between the Museum Association of New York and museums. It has created and expanded partnerships with the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor, the Hudson River National Heritage Association, and the New York Folklore Society.

The Museum Association of New York is incredibly excited to finally have MoMS travel to New York State bringing the Smithsonian outreach program to help engage our museums and their communities and amplify our museums.

Find out more information and start planning your New York State Water/Ways experience with the links below.

Follow along with @nysmuseums and #nyswaterways

Read more about the Water/Ways tour in New York State:

Learn more about each host site:

See a preview of the exhibition:

Support for the New York Tour of Water/Ways has been provided in part by:

The Museum Association of New York helps shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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