Helping sharpen the vision for a new home to Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum, Washington D.C.-based design firm Howard+Revis will lead the expanded exhibition space development for the future 31,130-square-foot stand-alone building on the Big Rapids campus. Already home to more than 14,000 objects, a more prominent facility positions the museum to continue as a national and global leader in the history and consequences of the Jim Crow era while being prepared to address and educate about relevant current topics as they arise.
The new Jim Crow Museum, Archive and Research Center will host, preserve and have greater capacity to share an ever-expanding collection, physically and virtually. A larger permanent home paves the way for improved archiving capability, more robust programming and greater accessibility for students, educators, researchers and the public, museum staff say. The estimated $18.5 million project addresses current facility limitations, including lack of visibility and tight configuration, in FLITE, the Ferris Library for Information, Technology and Education. Partnering with Howard+Revis to design ideal exhibition space is a critical step.
“The Jim Crow Museum team is thrilled to engage with Howard+Revis Design for the exhibit design of our new museum facility,” said Cyndi Tiedt, the collections manager for the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which moved into its current location, inside FLITE, in 2012. “This collaboration represents the creative synergy and passion of both teams, and we are delighted to work with a design firm that appreciates and amplifies the museum’s mission.”
Expanded opportunities for education, such as what the new museum will offer, align with the mission of the Jim Crow Museum, founded by curator and Ferris Vice President for Diversity, Inclusion and Strategic Initiatives David Pilgrim. The Howard+Revis team recently visited campus to better understand the role of the Jim Crow Museum, including touring its current home and examining many additional artifacts that the new museum will display.
“The larger space will be valuable. The museum has so much material, and yet it’s so condensed. I think we can help tease out the stories there, give it a little more breathing space and allow the stories to unfold more,” said Tracy Revis, a principal and senior designer at Howard+Revis Design. “Dr. (David) Pilgrim wants to add two new stories, including one that’s about Jim Crow in Michigan. Another one is more contemporary and addresses the issues of today – its forward-facing. Where do we go from here, what do we do with this knowledge that racism has been with us for a long time? That’s very challenging, but I think this extra room allows us to rise to this challenge.”
Visiting Ferris to learn more about the Jim Crow Museum and the people behind it has provided the Howard+Revis team, which includes its other principal and senior designer, Jeff Howard, a starting point for its work.
“The basic situation is we have a huge number of strengths to play from with the Jim Crow Museum, beginning with the strength of its collection,” said Elizabeth Eubanks, director of exhibit development at Howard+Revis. “Understanding the subject material is one thing, but the strength, depth and breadth of this collection is not something a lot of museums have. So, we understand that’s really great ground to work with. We feel we can contribute to bringing context to the objects, bringing the historical narrative forward, bringing actual individuals into the story. We always feel that biography is very powerful. Human examples are very powerful.”
Focusing on showcasing Jim Crow Museum objects in a way that maximizes educational value is a focal point for the Howard+Revis team, which will have more than 8,000 square feet as a canvas for the firm’s storytelling expertise.
“We’ve talked about those stories as being antidotes to these sort of stereotypes and the iconography that you’re seeing that are not real people,” Eubanks added. “We’re interested in balancing those gross generalization images with actual people to give visitors a better, more accurate, fuller picture of African American life.”
The timing of this new Jim Crow Museum project may offer greater opportunity.
“Anytime is a good time for a project like this, but now more than ever. For a lot of us, our hearts are in the right place, and many people are looking for answers and looking for ways to help navigate the nation toward our better selves,” Eubanks said. “And I think this institution has a tremendous role to play in that. People are looking to institutions like this and people who can speak with authority to the history and help them find a way through it.”
Neumann/Smith Architecture, a leading museum design firm, will develop the conceptual plans for the future Jim Crow Museum, Archive and Research Center. Neumann/Smith Architecture’s planning includes climate-controlled storage and archives, expanded exhibition space, research and reading rooms, and staff offices ideal for the growth of the museum’s team.
“We’ve been on this project since its inception. We did the work in FLITE,” said Joel Smith, president of Neumann/Smith Architecture. “We’ve been involved since the early days. Our long-term involvement with Dr. Pilgrim and the whole idea of the teachings of the Jim Crow Museum, and what it stands for, have been important to our office and to me in my career.”
The Jim Crow Museum is a national and international resource that draws visitors from around the United States and the world to Big Rapids, Michigan. Its campus roots date back to 1996 when Pilgrim donated his 3,000-piece collection to Ferris. Further, Jim Crow Museum staff use the collection to share history and teach tolerance worldwide. Museum staff have published three books, generated more than 20 million engagements through social media and online videos. In addition, the team shares its traveling exhibits, provides museum tours, online virtual tours, presents at regional and national conferences annually, opens the collection to visiting scholars, and offers educational programming for schools and universities.
“The fact that Ferris State recognizes that this can have an impact on the campus and visitors to campus. It’s wonderful that the University is thinking this way. Given the history of Ferris that Franklin Hughes and Dr. Pilgrim discovered and told, it speaks to what Ferris has meant to the black community,” Smith said. “It’s an unknown story that is now being told. So, the timing of this could not be better.”
For more information about the Jim Crow Museum: https://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/