UNC Wilmington Public History Students Help Tidal Creek Co-op Celebrate 30 Years with History Exhibit

Students in UNCW's Public History Program worked with the staff at Tidal Creek Co-op in Wilmington to create an exhibit commemorating the co-op's 30th anniversary.

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

When Craig Harris, general manager of Tidal Creek Cooperative Market, began to think about how to commemorate the Wilmington co-op's 30th anniversary, he didn't quite imagine a museum-quality installation. But when his wife, University of North Carolina Wilmington faculty member Diana Ashe, suggested that he ask for help from the university's Public History Program, his project soon headed in that direction.

Harris and other Tidal Creek staff members met with Tammy Gordon, UNCW faculty member and director of the Public History Program, and a group of students to brainstorm ways to preserve the co-op's history. Gordon and her students suggested an installation in the retail space of the store that would be accessible to shoppers, making them a part of its history.

"It just sounded really unique," Harris said of the plan Gordon and the students proposed. "Tammy and her students brought us the professional expertise we needed."

Gordon and the program's graduate students initially began working on the project in summer 2011, attending public meetings with co-op owners to gather historical information and input, develop content and begin planning the installation design. It was important to them that the store itself be a part of the story.

"We decided to treat the store as an artifact," said Gordon. "This is a place with historical continuity. The original principles that govern consumer cooperation are still in operation. It's really living history."

Gordon noted that the Tidal Creek project was an ideal way for students to learn best practices of museum curation and education. The Public History Program focuses on preparing students for professional work in museums, historic sites and historic preservation. She and her students were particularly eager to have the opportunity to develop a historical exhibit for a non-museum setting.

"Tidal Creek Co-op is an open community that welcomes inquiry, which facilitated every part of the project, including oral history interviews, primary source research and exhibit development, design and fabrication," she said. "The values of the Tidal Creek community, which include sustainability, public education, service and community well-being, are shared by public historians."

After students in Gordon's Intro to Public History course helped with extensive historical research and interviews in the fall of 2011, graduate students Beth Guertin and Chelsea Flowers spent the spring semester determining the content of the exhibit and preparing the actual exhibit materials to be installed.

"Chelsea and I part of the process from the idea generation through the final installation," said Guertin, who earned her bachelor's degree in Art and Art History at UNCW. "We learned all the logistics that it takes to put an exhibit together.

The exhibit, "Feeding Tradition: A History of Tidal Creek Cooperative Food Market" was unveiled at the coop in April 2012. It will remain on permanent display in the market's retail space. UNCW student research related to the project is posted at www.tidalcreek.coop. More information on the Public History Program and the Department of History at UNCW is available at www.uncw.edu/hst.