Grantee Partner Spotlight: McLean County Museum of History
By Mark Hallett, Director of Grants Programs
Read Time 4 minutes
September 15, 2023
The nationally accredited McLean County Museum of History received an Action Grant to help fund the development of an interactive platform with audio tours to make the museum accessible to Spanish speakers. The museum is dedicated to preserving, educating, and collaborating in sharing the diverse stories of the people of McLean County.
Read about the museum's history and programs in this Q&A with staff.
A Q&A with The McLean County Museum of History
Featuring Julie Emig, executive director, and Emily McCusker, director of youth and family education.
Q: How do you see the arts, culture, and the humanities as being essential?
Emily McCusker: The arts and humanities are the most meaningful way to learn about the broader world. Engaging with them fosters an understanding and appreciation of experiences outside of your own. It creates space for exploring community and self, cultivating cultural connections, and is vital to developing a better future for all.
Julie Emig: At the McLean County Museum of History, we prioritize civics education by teaching others how to navigate the often contentious terrain of today’s events. One clear example of this is our Community in Conflict exhibit (2019), which relays individual stories from the people of McLean County within the context of national and international upheaval. We can only grow by understanding what has come before, which is an essential facet of the humanities.
Q: What is the most important thing that people should know about your work?
Emily McCusker: The 1903 courthouse building that houses our Museum is the central landmark in historic downtown Bloomington. We are uniquely physically located in the center of our community, and the community is at the center of all that we do. From providing meaningful experiences to those who live here today to prioritizing diverse perspectives in the stories we tell of the past, the people of McLean County are paramount to our mission.
Julie Emig: We are so much more than your average county historical society — we are among the top 3% of museums in the country. Visitors often comment on the high quality of our exhibits, educational programming, breadth of content, and research capacity. We emphasize both preservation and accessibility and want anyone from anywhere to be able to study and explore our collections.
Q: How did you arrive at doing what you do?
Emily McCusker: I’ve loved history since I was a little kid and have always wanted to work in museums, but it wasn’t until I interned at the Illinois Holocaust Museum that I knew I wanted to be a museum educator. Creating resources for students and patrons to engage with history and expand their understanding of our world began to fuel my fire. It’s vital to not only teach what happened but also why it is important and how it has shaped the world today. That’s the part of history I find the most compelling; it’s not just what happened but what we can learn from it.
Julie Emig: I’ve always been a nerd for the humanities. I began my career as a high school English teacher and then pursued a doctorate in language, literacy, and cultural studies. Through decades of work in multiple school districts, I have seen firsthand that humanities education can enormously influence what young people imagine their futures can be.
Q: Who makes your work possible?
Emily McCusker: Our community moves our mission. Our volunteers, community collaborators, nonprofit network, members, and local businesses are all integral to the Museum’s success. The Museum’s programs, research, and day-to-day operations wouldn’t be possible without their support — especially our volunteers, whose generous gift of time and talent ensures we can continue to operate at this capacity and caliber.
Julie Emig: Those in our community also provide most of our funding. We are a small nonprofit in Central Illinois and rely on the support of our membership base and individual donors. We are 70% privately funded! Our most significant efforts are typically funded through grants, such as a lighting restoration project, the digitization of a million photo negatives, and, of course, the creation of a Spanish-language audio tour.
About The McLean County Museum of History
The McLean County Museum of History traces its roots back to 1892, the year the McLean County Historical Society was founded. It is a nationally accredited award-winning museum with five permanent exhibit galleries and two rotating galleries. The museum's exhibitions and programs are dedicated to preserving, educating, and collaborating in sharing the diverse stories of the people of McLean County.
About the Grantee Partner Spotlight Series
Illinois Humanities highlights the work of our Grants partners through our monthly Grantee Partner Spotlight. It shines a light on our grantee partners' work and allows readers to get to know them better through a Q&A with members of the organization.