Skip to Main Content

Our History

Museum on Main Street exhibitions and resources have traveled to nearly 1400 towns with populations of 500 to 20,000 across the country.

In 1991, 13 state humanities councils and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, conducted a survey of 100 small cultural institutions. This survey assessed the programmatic and exhibition preferences of rural museums, historical organizations and libraries and provided the basis for state humanities councils' ongoing collaboration with the Smithsonian that eventually developed into Museum on Main Street. 

The survey concluded that:


America’s small-town residents are often geographically,  economically, and culturally isolated

Museums, libraries located in rural areas serve as community centers

Because of their central community roles,  small museums  are well positioned to offer public programs

Rural museums have limited budgets and insufficient staff

Relying on the results of the survey, Smithsonian designers developed a new exhibit format that earned a Presidential Design Award for Excellence--not only because it delivered high-quality content in a compact package, but also because it was  tailored so precisely to the specific needs of resource-poor museums.

The first Museum on Main Street exhibition, Produce for Victory, launched in September 1994. Since then, we have developed a series of exhibitions that generate high levels of community creativity and engagement. In 2016, Museum on Main Street launched its 10th exhibition specifically developed for small-town America, Water/Ways.