MHP Student Lisa Demarais Kirby creates exhibit for ACHF at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Lisa Demarais Kirby poses with one of the displays at the exhibit she created at the Special Collections Library celebrating the 50th anniversary of ACHF

Second year MHP student Lisa Demarais Kirby recently completed an internship with the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library here at UGA.  The purpose of Lisa’s internship was to compile the information, documents, and physical items for a special exhibit celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation (ACHF). The exhibit, titled “Saving Athens: Celebrating 50 Years of ACHF,” is on display until August at the Special Collections Library.

Lisa found this internship and opportunity to compile an exhibit to be a great experience. Although she had worked as a docent before and had visited many museums in her life, this was the first time that she had the exciting opportunity to develop an exhibit from scratch. She worked almost entirely with primary resources like photographs, clothing items, meeting minutes, posters, and even a key to the city that ACHF received earlier this year. Many of the exhibit items came directly from storage at Firehall No. 2 where ACHF is headquartered. Other items came from various collections housed at UGA Special Collections such as the collections of two prominent ACHF members, Phinizy Spalding and James Reap, MHP Program Coordinator.

For Lisa, this opportunity was also a learning experience vital to her time here as an MHP student. While Lisa loves writing, writing the exhibit text provided her with a new but enjoyable challenge. Exhibit text can often be ignored if it is boring or there is too much of it. She enjoyed figuring out that balance and learning how to write for the public in a way that drew attention despite competition from visual items that would be displayed near the text. For her, it was important for the display to strike a balance between text and visual items.  Lisa said that she thinks that striking this balance “is a skill that many lack and can make topics like history and historic preservation seem inaccessible. Knowing how to interact with the public in an engaging way will definitely be important in my career, even if I don’t have the chance to develop an exhibit in the future.”

While going through boxes upon boxes of items and meetings minutes was a meticulous process, she enjoyed learning so much not just about ACHF but also how Athens has changed over the past 50 years. ACHF’s commitment to historic preservation has really helped make Athens the great place it is today. When it was founded, buildings were being demolished at a rapid rate. In her classes, she had participated in discussions on the many benefits to preservation, but seeing the history of it in a community that she is now a part of really brought that lesson home.

In Lisa’s own words, she said that “working on this project has also made me proud to know that I am entering a field that can make such a tangible and positive difference in a community. I hope the exhibit helps people see that while historic preservation is a long and sometimes frustrating process, persistence can lead to a grassroots organization becoming a vital protective presence that changes the course of a town.”