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Traveling Smithsonian exhibit to debut in Fort Dodge

Experience the evolution of democracy up close and personal

-Submitted photo
Former Iowa State Sen. Daryl Beall was one of many Fort Dodge subjects interviewed for a traveling Smithsonian exhibit on democracy in America. The exhibit will make its way to Fort Dodge, its first stop in the country, in March.

After the buzz of the caucuses officially leaves town in February, Fort Dodge will have the opportunity to experience democracy in a different kind of way.

A traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C., based on a major exhibition currently on display there, will soon make its first stop at Fort Dodge Public Library. Fort Dodge will be the first of six towns in Iowa to receive the interactive opportunity to see the evolution of American democracy, as well as record their experiences in and thoughts on it.

“This is not a static museum,” said Kris Patrick, executive director of Main Street Fort Dodge. “Many of the pieces within the exhibit are interactive. I think that’s why it’s successful.”

Since Fort Dodge organizers were the first to throw their hat into the ring for the exhibit, locals will be the first to have their voices recorded on democracy. Participants can have their interaction stored with the Smithsonian, where it can be used for up to six years in a permanent display.

Librarian Erika Earp said the 650-square-foot exhibit will be the largest one the library has had in several years, expected to draw crowds upwards of 10,000 people during its six-week display from Mar. 28 to May 10.

-Submitted photo
More than 100 years after women won the right to vote, a new Smithsonian exhibit on American democracy will travel through Fort Dodge: “America Democracy, A Great Leap of Faith.”

But those weary of thinking about democracy after dozens of candidates have stopped through town shouldn’t write off the opportunity right away.

“It’s more grassroots, talking about people that citizens can relate to, versus all the media buzz we have going on right now,” said Cheryl O’Hern, marketing coordinator for Spin Markket.

“It’s about the process,” Patrick said. “I hope that after they go through this, they can really think about their role in democracy … that they really understand that they are invested in what happens to the country. Sometimes we really feel separate because it feels far away or we disagree with it.”

Voices to Votes interviews have been underway with locals in Fort Dodge and will be a key piece of the exhibit.

Visitors can get excited about learning the meaning of their vote, how the voter body in America has diversified, women’s suffrage after the 100-year anniversary since women gained the right to vote and fights that have been won against injustice on the road to fair representation.

Memorabilia from the early 20th century through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, much of which has never been seen on display, will evoke nostalgia for many.

“(Attendees) are going to be excited to see how Fort Dodge is represented,” Patrick said.

The travel adaptation of the permanent display in Washington will have many of the same dynamic features, from archived photos and video to engaging multimedia and objects that tell stories like campaign souvenirs, voter memorabilia and protest material.

Participants will be provoked to think about the definition of a democracy and what makes the system work. They will learn about famous founders of America that remain mostly unknown, how voting rights have expanded over time, the machinery of the democratic process and how the diversification of Americans has affected democracy in the United States.

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