NWCC Launches NEH-Funded Digital Projects

The National Willa Cather Center is pleased to announce two new digital educational initiatives, made possible by a National Endowment for the Humanities Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant. These new projects, a mobile and web-app and a digital collections search tool, will help the NWCC to engage with students and readers–both remotely and while onsite in Red Cloud. "Creation of digital education tools has been on our list of goals for years," said Tracy Tucker, education director and archivist at the National Willa Cather Center. Creating such tools, she notes, is a resource-intensive process but an important one. "The education team here at the NWCC felt strongly about using the time during our closure to move the organization ahead with digital learning."

With few guests onsite in Red Cloud, Tucker and education coordinator Rachel Olsen were able to focus on creating the photographs, videos, audio recordings, and descriptions necessary for creating the mobile tour apps on the Cuseum platform. Designed to enhance guided tours for Red Cloud visitors or to stand alone as an abridged tour for Willa Cather fans around the world, the National Willa Cather Center tour apps offer great flexibility. "We've thought of this as the first phase," said Olsen, who hopes to connect with teachers who would like to use this in their classrooms. "There are more tours to build, and we think there are a lot of ways for students to use this app, too." The app allows users to explore the Cather Childhood Home, the American Bittersweet exhibit, or take the self-guided town tour, as well as listening to audio clips and viewing collection pieces to enrich understanding of the sites. The app also helps to provide alternative tours for those who face mobility or other physical challenges. 

The collections search tool, found on the National Willa Cather Center's website, allows visitors to browse highlights from the archival, museum, and permanent art collections housed at the NWCC. Because the collections search tool is tied to the museum's cataloging system, Tucker said, the project will continue to grow. "We anticipate adding a photograph gallery soon," she said, "and new pieces will be added continuously as the collection grows." Work to photograph and research each collection piece takes time, she added, but makes the objects more accessible to guests and researchers and useful to the organization. "We've always known that there are treasures in our collection, and we're eager to share them with ours guests in these new ways."

The National Willa Cather Center wishes to acknowledge the crucial role the NEH grant played in allowing our educational mission to go forward during the past year. The grant of $134,060 supported staff salaries as well as interpretation and programs.  "This award came at a crucial time," said executive director Ashley Olson. "After being closed and with many travel and event restrictions still in place, we wanted to find new and innovative ways to reach students and readers. This grant allowed us to retain staff and stay focused on our mission-driven activities." 

In addition to the digital projects, the NEH CARES Act grant supported the creation of new interpretive signage, collections handling training, and the development of museum-wide emergency protocols.