Marshall to host Smithsonian traveling exhibit celebrating rural innovation February 24 - March 30, 2024

Press Releases
Illinois Humanities

Read Time 4 minutes
February 12, 2024

For Immediate Release   

Sarah Sommers
Phone: (773) 251 - 4772

The national exhibition will be accompanied by three companion exhibits and a weekly event series produced by the Marshall Public Library.

CHICAGO, February 12, 2024 — Illinois Humanities is pleased to announce that Marshall will be the next and final Illinois town to host Spark! Places of Innovation, the newest traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street programSpark! will be hosted by the Marshall Public Library — a long-time program partner of Illinois Humanities — from February 24 - March 30, 2024. Marshall is one of the seven Illinois towns featured in Spark! for its spirit of innovation, alongside Atlanta, Fairbury, and previous tour stops Equality, Hillsboro, Chatsworth, and Rushville. Spark!’s visit to Marshall will mark the conclusion of the 2023-2024 Museum on Main Street tour in Illinois which will have traveled to seven small towns over nine months. 

The Marshall Public Library will produce three companion exhibits to Spark! that showcase Marshall’s unique local history in culture and innovation. Visitors will have an opportunity to learn about James Jones and the Handy Writers' Colony, a training program for authors (1950-64) started by Lowney Turner Handy on the outskirts of Marshall. The exhibit will recreate one of the cabin rooms and will include photos and oral histories of the colony, Handy, and Jones.

Marshall’s history of artist colonies continues into the present day. The Gaslight Arts Colony will collaborate on a companion mural celebrating the history of the Marshall Public Library and writers with ties to Marshall that will be on display beginning March 14. Marshall residents and the public are invited to have a hand in the mural through a community event on February 22.

One of Marshall’s most innovative contributions to history will be the highlight of the third companion exhibit: The Cork Medical Center, the first rural medical clinic, earned national recognition for developing innovative methods of providing healthcare in rural settings and training aspiring rural physicians. This exhibit will feature panels from a previous exhibition the Marshall Public Library hosted titled Crossroads.

The Marshall Public Library will also host a series of weekly events every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CT throughout the duration of Spark!’s visit. Events will range from exploring the subjects of the companion exhibits through a discussion of the Handy Writers’ Colony and an unveiling of the Gaslight Arts Colony mural, to a multimedia performance on rural America from Illinois Road Scholar Chris Vallillo to a Steampunk in the Library gathering where the public is encouraged to demonstrate their creative innovation through steampunk costumes.

Spark! Places of Innovation will be at the Marshall Public Library, 612 Archer Ave, Marshall, IL, February 24 - March 30, 2024. Guided tours of the exhibition are available on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. from February 29 through March 21, 2024, and on Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. on March 2nd and 16th. Whether a resident of Marshall or residing across the state, Illinoisans won’t want to miss this final chance to see Spark! and to celebrate the innovations of communities statewide.

Illinois Humanities partners with the Smithsonian to bring world-class, multimedia Smithsonian exhibitions to small towns and rural communities in Illinois. Through partnerships with organizations local to each community, every tour stop will showcase the town's homegrown stories, local events, and history.


Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community, and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds. Stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.


Museum on Main Street is a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and state humanities councils, including Illinois Humanities. It not only enables Illinoisans to experience Smithsonian-produced exhibitions in their own communities but also gives the local cultural organizations that host these exhibitions opportunities to enhance their roles within their communities and regions, attract new audiences and volunteers, expand their knowledge and resource bases, and develop skills that can be applied toward future exhibitions and programs.