History in the Making

The Mountain Heritage Center commemorates 30 years


WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center is shining its light brighter than ever on the Southern Appalachians, and it’s not just the new lighting system that was recently installed in the museum’s three exhibition galleries. As the center marks 30 years of interpreting the history and culture of the region, its staff has been busy expanding the scope and impact of its outreach programs across Western North Carolina and beyond.

“The Mountain Heritage Center experienced significant growth and change during the 2008-09 academic year,” said Scott Philyaw ’83, museum director and associate professor in WCU’s department of history. “We have begun a much-needed upgrade to our physical space – both to bring it into compliance with professional standards and to make it more useful to the university community.” Specific improvements include replacing the lighting in all three galleries, adding handrails to make the auditorium more accessible, and installing a wireless network in the galleries, the auditorium, and in the center’s conference room. “Also, our outreach efforts increased in quantity and quality, with partners ranging from local historical societies to nationally recognized scholars and institutions, and we have significantly increased our work with students,” Philyaw said. That includes serving as a co-sponsor for the Front Porch Music Club, an organization of students that gathers regularly in the museum lobby to play traditional music.

During the 2008-09 academic year, a total of 4,150 WCU and area K-12 students participated in Mountain Heritage Center programming, and 562 students engaged in significant research or applied learning activities at the center. Another 114 WCU students completed class projects, internships and research projects working with museum staff members and using its resources, Philyaw said.

In addition to serving as the organizational headquarters for Mountain Heritage Day, the annual fall festival that is the most highly attended event each year on WCU’s campus, the center offers support to K-12 teachers in the region and regularly provides staff expertise to local historical organizations and facilities. A good example of the staff’s work with local organizations, Philyaw said, is the exhibit “Haywood County: Portrait of a Mountain Community,” which the Mountain Heritage Center staff produced in cooperation with the Haywood County Historical Society as a companion project for the society’s new Haywood County history book.

Another new center initiative is the Digital Heritage Project, which consists of a series of one-minute radio broadcasts spotlighting the history, culture and traditions of the Southern Appalachians, and a companion Web site. Working with faculty and graduate students from the history department, the museum staff has produced more than 150 “heritage moments” that are heard daily on four Clear Channel Communications Inc. radio stations that broadcast across 50 counties in the region. The Web site www.DigitalHeritage.org includes illustrated essays, video interviews and short documentaries, the majority of which were produced by WCU students.

“Scott Philyaw and the staff of the Mountain Heritage Center have done a remarkable job in recent years of redirecting the center, clarifying its mission and broadening its contributions to the university and the state,” said Clifton Metcalf, WCU vice chancellor of advancement and external affairs.

For more information about the museum’s programs and special events, call (828) 227-7129 or visit www.wcu.edu/mhc.