• Kim Piekos

History Center, LFC Unite to Create 50th Anniversary Exhibit

By Kim Piekos

The History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff has partnered with students at Lake Forest College to create an exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of the non-profit organization. Titled “50 in Focus,” the exhibit displays significant developments in the area over the past 50 years.

The collaboration was born out of the History Center’s plans to create a retrospective exhibit marking this anniversary and Lake Forest College’s Museums and Exhibitions class’s desire to work on a real-life project.

Lake Forest College students curated "50 in Focus" at the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff. “This completely revolutionized the syllabus for the class,” says Dr. Jessica Criales, visiting assistant professor of history at Lake Forest College. “Suddenly, we had this professional, full-blown exhibition to create.”

Carol Summerfield, executive director of the History Center, is excited about what the students learned. “This was a unique opportunity for them to learn how to breathe life into 50 years of history in a way that is engaging and interesting,” she notes. “They learned firsthand how to think through the structure and ideology of what they were presenting and how to project an objective voice around history while remaining true to the topic area.”

The class of 15 primarily junior- and senior level-students -- history, anthropology and sociology majors for the most part -- were divided into four teams. Each focused on a topic area, including preservation, the partnership between the City of Lake Forest and Lake Forest College, protests and civic voice and people throughout the decades. From January through April, they curated the exhibit, relying heavily on the History Center’s archives, interviews with past and present community leaders and donations from community members.

Junior Alaina Lykins, a team project manager, noted the shift in focus that developed when the assignment became a professional one. “It was no longer just a learning opportunity for us; it was one for the community as well,” she says. “We had to commit to deadlines to bring this exhibit to fruition for the History Center.”

Each person on a team was assigned a role, including project manager, lead author, lead researcher and evaluation specialist.

“This felt more like a graduate-level course,” reflects Lake Forest College senior Evan McCarthy, a team project manager. “It required maturity, professionalism, discipline and leadership from each of us.”

One challenge for the students was learning how to write succinctly and impactfully to explain parts of the exhibit. “You are not giving someone the full history in an exhibit. You are inviting them in, so they say, ‘I didn’t know that,’ and pique their interest to explore more,” Summerfield explains. “You don’t get 1,000 words; you get 100 for every little story you want to tell.”

McCarthy admits that was hard. “As students, we’re used to writing long papers. We’ve had to learn how to effectively communicate important information with fewer words. I’ll apply that learning to my professional work.”

Criales is encouraged by the growth she has observed in her students. “I saw the class transform from student level of knowledge – concern with what they had to do to get a good grade – to an identity as an expert in this history,” she notes. “That is meaningful.”

Summerfield concurs. “The students have been very invested and emotionally connected to what they have developed and have created an impactful exhibit,” she said.

The “50 in Focus” exhibit opens to the public on Tuesday, May 10. The History Center will host a 50th birthday bash on Friday, June 17. “This is a huge celebration of 50 years past, 50 years forward and our next big initiatives,” says Summerfield. “We’re very excited.”