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Museum undergoes changes

The museum's pioneer exhibit features a settler's home, which was made from a rail car. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press1 / 2
The Dickinson Museum Center received a $20,000 grant from the state historical society to help insulate the pioneer building. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press2 / 2

About $50,000 has been invested into the Pioneer Machinery Building at the local museum in an effort to transform the exhibit into a storyline.

The Dickinson Museum Center received a $20,000 grant from the state's historical society, which was matched by the Stark County Historical Society, to install insulation, sheetrock, lights and fans. The building will have heating and air conditioning so that the building and exhibit can be used year-round, said Tyler Schoch, the president of the Stark County Historical Society. The renovation will also help the museum preserve the artifacts in an area with consistent temperature and humidity, which is better for aged objects.

"I think it will be better because it will be more temperature-controlled, so it will be better during the summer, and, if we are able to show it, during the fall at least," said Jessica Stratton, the education coordinator at the museum. "... It would be nice to show it for a longer period of time if possible."

The museum is also looking to revamp the exhibit so it tells more of a story rather than serving as a collection of labeled artifacts, Schoch said. It will be renamed the Pioneer Exhibit Hall.

"Right now the museum is undergoing a lot of changes, and we're trying to make this all make sense as far as from an interpretation standpoint," he said. "So that's what we're really focused on because traditionally this museum has been a lot of artifacts and a lot of, 'Well, here's a nameplate that tells you what it is.' We want to tell you who used it, why they used it, where they used it and how they used it instead of, 'This is a 1924 tractor.'"

He hopes the exhibit will have audio and visual equipment as well to show the visitors how the pioneers used the equipment years ago. Their goal is to help people understand what the pioneers went through when they moved to North Dakota with so little and faced adversity in the harsh climate, he said. For example, some settlers converted old rail cars into their homes — and the exhibit features one.

"It shows the struggles of the people who came here, and it can let you really connect with them, I guess," Schoch said. "It can let you kind of feel how hard it was to come out here and dig sod for the whole summer and build a house and try to get a crop in. ... And you had to figure out how to make it. There wasn't cell phones, there wasn't 9-1-1, there wasn't anything. It was the true quintessential American story, and we're telling a little piece here."

The exhibit will have a soft opening this summer but will not be entirely finished until 2018, he said. The museum will work to arrange and organize the exhibit in the meantime.

One perk of having a permanent, year-round display is the appeal to local schools, said Alison Hinman, the museum's collection manager. The museum can work with the schools to develop a program that incorporates their curriculum and lesson plans. This way teachers know what their students will see when they visit and can better justify the expenditure for the field trip, she said.

The museum is also working on a permanent exhibit showcasing Dickinson throughout the centuries, which will feature artifacts from different decades and be completed before summer. Hinman said she hopes this exhibit will pair well with the Pioneer Exhibit Hall too.

She noted that these exhibits—though they will remain in the museum for an extended time—change constantly as the museum receives donated artifacts.

"Museums are not those stale, dirty old places you used to see anymore," she said. "They are quite active and do remarkably a lot for very little money."

Choosing exhibits can be difficult because of the two different groups of people who visit the museum — the locals and the visitors, she said. Community members are usually more familiar with the area and may want additional details in an exhibit while visitors stopping in from the interstate may be less interested in a depth of information.

Ultimately, the museum is seeing several changes with a new director and the city's acquisition of the dinosaur museum, Schoch said. The pioneer exhibit has also not been updated in 20 to 30 years, so they are taking advantage of the opportunity to put a fresh spin on the display.

"Our job is to preserve history and make it accessible to the public, so that's part of why we're doing this building too," he said. "We want this to be accessible. We want it to be a piece that everyone can be proud of."