BEHOLD! New Lebanon Named Recipient of $175,000 J.M.K. Innovation Prize
Monday, November 16, 2015
Posted by: Shannon K. Larson
BEHOLD! New Lebanon, the nation’s first living museum of contemporary rural American life, has been chosen to receive the J.M. Kaplan Innovation Prize. A new initiative of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, a New York-based family foundation, the $175,000 Prize supports inter-disciplinary innovation in the fields of cultural heritage, human rights, the built environment, and the natural environment.
Piloted in 2014 and conducting its first full season in summer 2015, BEHOLD! New Lebanon (BNL) offers unprecedented access to small town rural life and a realistic picture of that life. To assist the economic and social development of their small town, local residents teach the art of rural living in their fields, barns, studios and kitchens. BNL visitors – whether urban tourists, visitors, or local residents -- are presented with a unique, personal experience that almost always includes an “I didn’t know that!” moment.
The award acknowledges the leadership and innovation of museum founder and president Ruth J. Abram, a social activist and historian. Prior to founding BEHOLD! New Lebanon, Abram was the founding president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. She also organized the Institute on Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College and the National Women’s Agenda Coalition.
BNL responds to a problem identified by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Referring to a recent report by his agency, Vilsack stated that while the national economy may be on the upswing, rural America is lagging behind. Its job growth is stagnant; its poverty rate remains high, and its population is in decline as young people leave to find jobs elsewhere.
Vilsack called for a “national commitment to create new opportunities in rural America that keep folks in our small towns and reignites economic growth across the nation.” BEHOLD! New Lebanon answers that call, modeling an educational vehicle and an economic development engine for upstate New York and other rural areas. It challenges museums to become integral to the rejuvenation of their local communities.
“BEHOLD! New Lebanon is a perfect example of the kind of hybrid, hard-to-categorize problem solving we wanted to support through the J.M.K Innovation Prize,” said the J.M. Kaplan Fund Executive Director Amy Freitag. “It is an elegant solution to a pressing need in struggling, rural communities."
BNL founder Abram, a resident of New Lebanon, has consulted on historic interpretation for museums around the world including the National Park Service, the National Public Housing Museum, Lincoln’s Cottage, Weeksville, the Gulag Museum in Russia, the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh, and the English Workhouse Museum.
Her contributions have been recognized by numerous awards and fellowships including from New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Muhlenberg College, Russell Sage College, Hebrew Union College, and the Aspen Institute.
“Aside from the welcome financial benefit, the J.M. Kaplan Prize affirms the importance and innovation of the work that BEHOLD! New Lebanon is doing in social and economic development,” said Abram. “In so doing, it draws attention to the problems and promise of rural America.”
Winners were chosen from among 1,138 applicants representing many areas of interest, including: criminal justice, food systems, cultural heritage, technology, public health, economic empowerment, and the arts.
“Because many new social sector innovations don't fit neatly within philanthropic funding buckets or have a track record to attract widespread support, they frequently struggle to get funding that can sustain them through their early years,” said Peter Davidson, chairman of the J.M. Kaplan Fund Board of Trustees. “Through The JMK Innovation Prize, we are shining a light on the burgeoning ideas and future leaders who will create a more ideal society.”
For three generations, the J.M. Kaplan Fund has provided catalytic funding for projects in their early stages of development. Work supported by the Fund has involved a level of measured risk that ultimately led to large-scale, transformative results. Through workshops on the art of rural living conducted by residents in one small town, BEHOLD! New Lebanon pilots a much-needed new model for economic and social development for rural America, and a new role for museums.
Recognizing that many worthwhile ideas fail to find backing from established funders, the J.M.K. Innovation Prize will fill a gap by providing critical capital to the social innovation field. The Innovation Prize provides up to three years of support at $50,000 per year, as well as a $25,000 “bank” of funds available for technical assistance or targeted project expenses, making a total award of up to $175,000.
See also the following video: https://vimeo.com/145300361.
About the J.M. Kaplan Fund
The J.M. Kaplan Fund, a 70-year old New York City-based family foundation, champions inventive giving that supports transformative social, environmental, and cultural causes. In 2015 the Fund launched the J.M.K. Innovation Prize, seeking visionary, early-stage innovations in the fields of cultural heritage, human rights, and the natural and built environments. Information: http://www.jmkfund.org
About BEHOLD! New Lebanon
BEHOLD! New Lebanon is a non-profit museum offering unprecedented public access behind the scenes of contemporary rural America Pioneering a new concept in community/economic development for rural America, BNL models an expanded role for museums in American culture.
With 40 different tour programs in its first full season, BEHOLD! New Lebanon’s rural guides greet visitors at their farms, studios and workspaces, as they cook, preserve produce, farm organically, , raise heritage cattle, train animals, race and repair automobiles, design jewelry track animals, forage for food and much more. Far from costumed actors recalling old-world skills, Behold! docents are real townspeople, whose lives and work challenge myths about country life while inspiring all who have dreamed of fashioning life on their own terms. Information: www.BeholdNewLebanon.org
View the original press release here.