Two Traveling Exhibits Bring World-class Exhibitions to Salem August 28 – October 2, 2021

The exhibitions will highlight opportunities for civic action and results of that action, and the pursuit of civil rights by and for African Americans in Illinois.

Illinois Humanities

Read Time 4 minutes
September 7, 2021

The exhibitions will highlight opportunities for civic action and results of that action, and the pursuit of civil rights by and for African Americans in Illinois.

CHICAGO, SEPTEMBER 7, 2021— Bryan-Bennett Library will host Voices and Votes: Democracy in America, the newest Museum on Main Street exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution and Illinois Humanities, at the library, 315 South Maple Street in Salem, from Saturday, August 28, to Saturday, October 2.

Voices and Votes explores questions stemming from the leap of faith taken by the American revolutionaries who established a government that entrusted the power of the nation not in a monarchy but in its citizens. The exhibition explores the questions: Who has the right to vote, what are the freedoms and responsibilities of citizens, and whose voices will be heard?

Using historical and contemporary photographs, videos, interactive multimedia components, and artifacts, the exhibition examines the following themes:

  • “The Great Leap” – the origins of America’s democratic system
  • “A Vote, A Voice” – the expansion of the right to vote and challenges related to it, past and present
  • “The Machinery of Democracy” – the institutions and systems that facilitate participation in the electoral process
  • “Beyond the Ballot” – civic participation, advocacy, and activism beyond the electoral process
  • “Creating Citizens” – perspectives on the rights and responsibilities of citizens and their influence upon our complex national identity.

“Bryan-Bennett Library is thrilled with the opportunity to host this exhibit,” said Kim Keller, director of the Bryan-Bennett Library. “We have a strong steering committee, library staff, and library board working hard to create a total family experience.”

Bryan-Bennett Library is one of six organizations selected by Illinois Humanities to host Voices and Votes during its statewide tour, along with Bryan-Bennett Library in Salem, the Savanna Museum and Cultural Center, the Jacksonville Area Museum, Vespasian Warner Public Library in Clinton, and the General John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro. Preference was given to communities with 25,000 or fewer residents.

Bryan-Bennett Library will be the second location on the tour, which will continue through March 16, 2022, after leaving Salem this October.

“This is our first opportunity to work with Bryan-Bennett Library on a Museum on Main Street exhibition, and we couldn’t be more excited,” commented Gabrielle Lyon, executive director of Illinois Humanities. “The support for Voices and Votes that people and organizations in Salem have already demonstrated and the community’s involvement in preparations for the exhibition are truly impressive.”

Voices and Votes: Democracy in America will tour Illinois under the auspices of Museum on Main Street, a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and state humanities councils — including Illinois Humanities. It enables Illinoisans to experience Smithsonian-produced exhibitions on significant themes in American culture in their own communities.

It also gives the local cultural organizations that host those exhibitions opportunities to enhance their capacities in a variety of ways. Each host organization produces a locally focused companion exhibition linking the subject matter of the Smithsonian-produced exhibition to the history and culture of its own community or region. It also presents public programs that engage audiences and participants with the topics and themes of the exhibition.

The library will be hosting various events in conjunction with the touring exhibit. Events include appearances from elected officials, a themed escape room, a special ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of September 11th, and more.

While Voices and Votes is on exhibition at the Bryan-Bennett Library, a related exhibition, Illinois Freedom Project, will examine the pursuit of civil rights by and for African Americans in Illinois. Illinois Freedom Project will be available for viewing at the library as well from Saturday, August 28, to Saturday, October 2.

An outgrowth of an educational program that engages young people with African American history in Illinois, the Illinois Freedom Project exhibition traces Black Illinoisans’ struggles for freedom from the French Colonial era to early 20th century Chicago. It will tour Illinois in conjunction with Voices and Votes, visiting communities near those where Voices and Votes will be exhibited.

“Every generation has some adversity to overcome,” Keller added. “We hope that viewing these entertaining and educational displays encourages people to celebrate victories and educates them about the impact their actions can have on future generations.”

Both exhibitions will be at the Bryan-Bennett Library through October 2nd. The library is open 7 days a week; Mon-Thurs 12pm-7pm, Fri-Sat 10am-7pm, and Sundays 1pm-6pm. Group tours are available by appointment. Call the library at (618)-548-3006 for more information on hours and special events.


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.

Learn more about Illinois Humanities at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @ILHumanities.