TC prof, students create ‘contemporary exhibit’

Tabor College students (from left) Mariah Kliewer, Bailey Clark, Laura Pankratz and their prof, Derek Hamm, hold up flags representing wheat, a sunrise, a windmill and the Hillsboro Trojans. The flags are part of the contemporary exhibit about Hillsboro that is scheduled for debut from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday in the former Marion County Learn­ing Center building at 107 N. Main Street in Hillsboro.Led by their homegrown professor, a group of Tabor College students are preparing to debut later this week a new attraction for, and about, the city of Hillsboro.

Derek Hamm, a Hillsboro High grad who now teaches graphic design classes at Tabor College, has challenged his students to develop what he describes as a “contemporary museum” about the town.

The big reveal is planned for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday in the former Marion County Learning Center at 107 S. Main.

“When I found that place, it was what a perfect name,” Hamm said. “It’s better than ‘Hills­boro Contemporary Museum,’ or something like that. It’s the Marion County Learning Center—it’s where you come to learn about Marion County.”

As part of the festivities, Thursday marks the one-night return of “Pie Night” from the community’s recent past. Admis­sion to the opening is free and so is the pie, “as long as it lasts,” Hamm said.

Thursday is the big day, but Hamm said the plan is to open the exhibit at other times as long as the building remains available and people express interest in seeing it.

Variety of media

Visitors to the revamped MCLC will see exhibits in a variety of media. At the inspirational center of it is an iconic 3-foot-by-4-foot poster from the early 1970s that has intrigued Hamm for years.

The poster features hometown girl Margo Schroeder, wearing a bikini on a sailboat that appears to be afloat on one of the local Adobe House ponds. The poster reads: “Hillsboro Has It!”

“The thing has just captured my imagination for years because it’s about the least representative (symbol) of Hillsboro that I can think of,” Hamm said with a smile. “Then I found out she was Miss Kansas in 1969. So, I also have a license plate that says this, and a brochure on ‘Hillsboro Has It.’”

Community focus

Beyond the classic poster, exhibit visitors can view a variety of projects created by Hamm’s students with input from a wide range contributors.

Hamm said last spring he and some students from Intro to Design class asked fifth-graders at Hillsboro Elemen­tary School, ‘What would a flag for Hillsboro look like?’

“We came up with five designs, and Kessler’s (Kreations) is producing them as full-flag size—then we’ll have a vote to see which flag best represents us,” Hamm said. “I won’t say that none of them are corny, but there’s no zwieback.”

Hamm said he was pleasantly surprised by the interests expressed by the fifth graders but also retired seniors they visited at Parkside Homes.

“When we were talking at Parkside with the morning coffee group, I was asking them what are themes about Hillsboro, and what do you think about when you think of Hillsboro?” he said. “After a couple of comments, one of the residents said, ‘These are things about Hillsboro’s past. What is the future of Hillsboro?”

Meanwhile, at least one fifth-grader was looking the other direction. After several flag ideas were suggested, one girl said: “Indians— you know, the people who lived here before these other people lived here.”

Hamm said, “I liked that in the conversation the older generation was thinking about the future, and the younger generation was thinging about the past. There are ways to describe this place beyond the few Mennonite settlers that get talked about all the time.”

Local visitors to the exhibit will get a chance to contribute their views about the community. Hamm’s students have created two sets of cards. One set asks what Hillsboro currently has that makes the city special, and the other asks what they wish Hillsboro had for its future.

“If 50 people say they want an ice cream parlor, it might give someone enough encouragement to say, ‘I’m going to open an ice cream parlor,” Hamm said.

The response cards will become part of the exhibit.

Student input

Hamm said the idea for this project emerged from various conversations he’s had with Tabor students about Hillsboro.

“It kind of comes from the idea that education should be place-based,” he said. “You should gain a connection with this place even if you’re here for just a few years—to actually get to know what this place is like rather than just going to your dorm room and then leaving for Wichita at every turn.”

For example, Hamm said he occasionally asks his students about Jost Service Station—one of the few filling stations left that offer traditional full service. More often than not, students respond: “There’s a gas station on that corner?”

“I tell them, yeah, you drive by it every day,” Hamm said. “They don’t have an awareness of the community that they live in.”

Hamm said he hopes the exhibit communicates something to the townfolk, too.

“When I started talking to people downtown, over and over I heard there’s this divide—there’s Tabor, and then there’s the town, and the two don’t meet,” he said.

The exhibit is an opportunity to bridge the divide. Hamm learned about contemporary exhibits while working on his master of fine arts degree in art and social practice through Port­land State University.

“What social practice deals with is art that often happens outside of the normal art institutions, and with participants who aren’t necessarily artists either,” he said, “You’re sort of working with different constituencies that actually produce the work.

“Sometimes it’s more about the process than the final result,” he added. “It’s about the people you’re meeting along the way.”

To empower the project, Hamm tapped students in the three classes he is teaching this fall: Graphic Design Practice, Photography and Digital Storytelling, plus some students from his Intro to Graphic Design class from last spring.

“What if we focused all of the classes for one month, working in their respective fields, for a common exhibition topic, which in this case is Hillsboro,” he asked them.

Hamm said he assigned projects that correlated with their class content.

His photography students document various areas of the town. The Digital Story­telling students created short documentaries about people in Hillsboro they came across.

The Graphic Design class made walking guides for “activities in a place that is not known for its activities.”

Hamm is hoping the project will be a conversation starter.

“Towns like Hillsboro are so much into nostalgia, and are rooted in a certain history that always kind of ends suspiciously 80 years ago—like there was no history before that.

“Sometimes towns like Hillsboro suffer from a lack of self-esteem about what they have now, or lack imagination for what they could have going forward.

“This isn’t going to solve that, but that’s kind of the idea.”

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