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OPEN HOUSE: IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK

Open House: If These Walls Could Talk
An exhibit at the Minnesota History Center

About the Exhibit

"This exhibit came to life because people were so generous in sharing their stories with us. Sometimes people would tell us they had nothing important to say, but then the memories would start flowing and we would hear such wonderful, revealing anecdotes. It really does show how everyone has a story to tell. Thats what history is all about."

Benjamin Filene
Exhibit Developer

A playfully interactive exhibit, Open House: If These Walls Could Talk, brings to life the adage if these walls could talk by using a single, existing housein the Railroad Island neighborhood on St. Pauls East Sideas a window into the daily lives of people of the past.

Stories of families, from the first German immigrants through the Italians, African-Americans, and Hmong who succeeded them, are told through rooms representing different eras of the house. Visitors become detectives, piecing together lives of the families who made this house their home.

Rooms Evoke Family Stories

Stories are brought to life through vivid use of voices, photographs and multimedia imagery. Familiar settings produce surprises at every turn. Taking a seat at the table triggers Grace Tinuccis memories of meeting her future in-laws at a big family dinner. Touching a silver dollar launches home movies and a familys memories of saving coins for vacations across Minnesota.

lunchbox graphicIn the parlor, visitors can run a magic lantern show, play with Victorian toys, and see why Marthas piano lesson went awry. In the kitchen, visitors learn about 75 chickens, the war, and Michelinas wedding day. In the living room, the view out the window dissolves into scenes of Laos and Thai refugee camps, visions from the journey Pang Touas family took to America.

Uniforms hanging on hooks represent lives of the East Side workersbrewery and railroad workers, housewives and hatmakerswho made their home here.

Community Opens Up for Open House

Open House depended on collaboration with East Side residents. Exhibit Developer Benjamin Filene and his colleagues launched a series of community-based projects that built connections between the History Center and the neighborhood.

This exhibit came to life because people were so generous in sharing their stories, Filene said. Sometimes people would tell us they had nothing important to say, but then the memories would start flowing and we would hear such wonderful, revealing anecdotes. It demonstrates how everyone has a story to tell. Thats what history is all about. Examples of the neighborhood collaborations include:

  • Memory Map: An oversized map was taken to fesitvals, community centers, retiree groups, and public markets. Current and former residents annotated it with their memories of neighborhood locations.
  • ViewPoints: Neighborhood youth, working with a professional photographer, documented their neighborhood through photographs.
  • Voices from Railroad Island: A series of oral interviews with current and former residents documented the people, places, and stories of the neighborhood.
  • History Happened Here: Students at HOPE Community Academy (a Hmong charter school), uncovered the history of their neighborhood and their families through a five-week curriculum.
  • Hop on the Bus: East Side residents received free transportation to special events and exhibitions at the History Center.

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