Skip to main content

Summer 2019 Newsletter

Communities sought to host Smithsonian traveling exhibition on rural America

Museum on Main Street is a popular national program that brings Smithsonian museum exhibitions to small and rural communities. Sponsored locally by Humanities Nebraska, the next exhibit, “Crossroads,” focuses on America’s population shift from rural to urban and how that impacts our small towns. 

In 1900, about 40% of Americans lived in rural areas, By 2010, less than 18% of the U.S. population did so. In just over a century, massive economic and social changes led to massive growth of America’s urban areas. Yet less than 10% of the U.S. landmass is considered urban.

Many Americans assume that rural communities are endangered and hanging on by a thread—suffering from outmigration, ailing schools, and overused land. But that perception is far from true in many areas. 

Despite the economic and demographic impacts brought on by these changes, America’s small towns continue to creatively focus on new opportunities for growth and development. Economic innovation and a focus on the cultural facets that make small towns unique, comfortable, and desirable have helped many communities create their own renaissance. The future is bright for much of rural America as small towns embrace the notion that their citizens and their cultural uniqueness are important assets.

Nebraska has many small-town success stories — communities that have capitalized on their unique aspects to serve local people, encouraged young adults to stay in or return to their home towns to work and raise families, appealed to new residents, and attracted tourists. 

As rural Americans work hard to sustain their communities, the Smithsonian “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” exhibition asks, “Why should revitalizing rural places matter to those who remain, those who left, and those who will join these communities in the future?”

 All Americans benefit from rural America’s successes. “Crossroads” shows visitors that everyone can learn great things from listening to those stories. There is much more to the story of rural America.

Communities selected to host “Crossroads” will have a chance to look at their own paths and highlight the changes that affected their fortunes over the past century. The exhibition will prompt discussions about what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred.

To bring “Crossroads” to your local museum or library, the HN Museum on Main Street page for a community application. For assistance, please contact Mary Yager, associate director, at 402.474.2131 or

Humanities Nebraska programming is made possible by:

and generous individuals, foundations, and businesses across Nebraska.