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Exhibit of loaned items shows community’s ‘resilience’

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

WWPL exhibit
Image courtesy Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.

STAUNTON — Community is defined as a feeling of fellowship created from common goals, attitudes and interests.

And Staunton, Augusta County and Waynesboro illustrate that definition on a regular basis by coming together in times of need and despair.

SAW’s sense of community was tested several times in the last year and a half: the COVID-19 global pandemic, Vigil for Justice held in June 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd, and the flash floods that devastated downtown Staunton restaurants and businesses in early August 2020.

“It has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone in different ways,” said Andrew Phillips, curator at Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. “I was really encouraged by the resilience shown [in exhibit submissions].”

WWPL began collecting submissions from the community, including letters, photos and items, which tell the story of the community’s experience in the last year and a half.

“Making History in the Present: A Community Curated Exhibit” will open Thursday, July 1, and remain open through March 2022.

“Everything in [the exhibit] is loaned to us by someone in the community,” Phillips said.

The exhibit, made possible with a 2020 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, seeks “to sort of tell the story of what was going on in the Valley” in the last 18 months.

Photos of flooding in downtown Staunton after August 8, 2020, show the community coming together.

“I think it really speaks to the resilience of this community,” Phillips said of items in the exhibit.

Items are from individuals, businesses, schools and organizations in Staunton, Augusta County, and Waynesboro, as well as students in Rockingham County.

The Staunton Downtown Development Association provided items regarding last August’s flood.

Building Bridges for the Greater Good provided photos from the June 6, 2020 vigil held at Gypsy Hill Park.

“We’re sort of viewing this that we’re offering real estate — for residents to tell the story of what life has been like for them in the last year and a half,” Phillips said.

The exhibit “really kind of runs the gamut” of items and expression.

Some items share the closing of businesses during the pandemic, while others reveal businesses doing what they can to “make the best of a bad situation.”

“There are some stories in the exhibit that are really heartbreaking,” according to Phillips. “We hope that everyone who sees it, will find a connection in it.”

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