Redesign and Revitalization in Weirton, West Virginia

 

Redesign and Revitalization in Weirton, West Virginia

Museum Studies Intern at Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center – Spring 2021

This semester I worked as an intern at the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center. As a student studying remotely and not living at the University of Pittsburgh campus, it was really rewarding to be able to physically go to the Weirton Museum and work hands-on to redesign an exhibition space along with Weirton Area Museum director, Savannah Schroll Guz. Because of the nature of smaller museums, I had the freedom to choose a project I was passionate about - to create a new exhibition exploring Weirton during the Colonial period.

A challenge we faced was finding information about this period of Weirton’s history, at the time that the town was called Holliday’s Cove. Most of the museum is focused on the early to mid-twentieth century when the Weirton Steel Mill gave this city its identity as a working-class community with a thriving industry. Despite the mill's closure, many members of the community still remember that era where they or their loved ones were employed by Weirton Steel. They come in droves to the museum searching for small steel plates that served as ID cards for their family members. Hundreds of these small plaques have been donated to the museum – each part of someone’s identity and on their person for decades.

Although the closed mill was part of this community’s identity for years, what I found in Weirton was still a close-knit community who not only yearns for this museum because it tells the story of their town but also because it brings the town together which is even more important in this pandemic-fueled era of disconnectedness. For instance, I was present for an event where a local retired undercover police officer came to speak at the museum. Crowds of people came to hear the about the officer's life. We all laughed together at the funny parts of his stories and sighed at the disheartening and tragic moments. During the breaks I was struck by the way it seemed everyone knew each other as they said hello to one another and made small talk. Virtually, the museum is making a community, too. Each week, Savannah and I would film ourselves updating the public about our progress in the exhibition space, and it was really encouraging to see the likes and comments from community members who were excited to see what we were doing.

Overall, I am so grateful I was an intern at the Weirton Area Museum because I see in its future it being a catalyst for massive community revitalization. This museum is going to make its mark as part of Weirton’s post-steel identity. There is so much history here just waiting to be discovered, and I am glad I got to uncover and show a little portion of it in our redesign.

Categories: 
  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh