The Hudson Valley town of New Lebanon, NY is conducting an experiment in displaying rural life as it is lived now to urban tourists. Behold! New Lebanon will be the first museum of contemporary life. Their website says the following:
You may have visited historic museums where costumed docents play characters from yesteryear and demonstrate skills of times long since past. But during “Behold! New Lebanon,” we will introduce you to the way we live and work today and offer you an opportunity to learn, appreciate, and try our way of life.
The museum is intended to revitalize New Lebanon’s economy by inviting the down-state dollars which have otherwise been drawn to the bucolic and nearby towns of Hudson and Stockbridge, MA. It is an example of creative problem-solving from a rural community that could easily be consigned irrelevance. However, it also makes a refreshing social argument: rural life is not a thing of the past. In fact, there is something worthwhile and interesting going on in the countless rural pockets of America right now.
Behold! New Lebanon ran a trial season in the late summer and autumn of last year, running workshops by people who train dogs to chase off geese, farm with draught horses, build terrariums, and maintain a defunct rail line. The museum’s content comes directly from the residents of the town, who guide visitors through their lives and skills. In the summer of 2015 they will have a complete season, but the schedule is not yet released. Check back for further updates on the upcoming season.
An important side-effect of this museum may also be introducing visitors to community supported agricultural and the nascent agricultural revival, although these events sit alongside the more obviously quaint offerings on the schedule. But Behold! New Lebanon is not only exciting in its own right: it proposes a fresh model for rural communities to present themselves to the rest of the world. We’re excited to see what happens in New Lebanon!
Check out this New York Times article for further discussion of the project.