Always a River

Over the coming year as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we’ll visit our archives to highlight some of our past programs. The five programs we’ve selected exemplify one of our core…

Over the coming year as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we’ll visit our archives to highlight some of our past programs. The five programs we’ve selected exemplify one of our core values — community, creativity, curiosity, inclusivity and partnership. These programs highlight eras in history and humanities disciplines, including history and literature.

Always a River: The Ohio River and the American Experience was a specially fabricated museum-on-a-barge (152 feet long by 34 feet wide) that presented and interpreted the history, industry and culture of the Ohio River area. Visitorsexperienced this story through an eleven-gallery exhibit inside the barge with segments on river settlement, commerce, geology and art. Over 8,000 images, maps, models, texts and artifacts were featured, including a replica steamboat pilothouse with a historic salvaged wooden wheel as well as a modern towboat pilothouse constructed by Jeffboat in Jeffersonville, Indiana. 

Departing in May 1991, Always A River floated the entire length of the Ohio River (981 miles) in approximately three months. Along the route 21 river towns served as exhibit stops, including four communities in Indiana—Evansville, Mount Vernon, Tell City and Vevay. In total, the exhibit reached 200,000 visitors across the six states bordering the Ohio River: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

In addition to the Always a River museum exhibit, visitors participated in several companion programs. Some of these activities included a two-day public history/folklore conference focused on Ohio River scholarship; a series of reading anddiscussion programs on Always a River (1991), a published collection of essays edited by historian Robert L. Reid; and showings of Watercolors of the Ohio, an exhibit of watercolor paintings of the Ohio River created by members of watercolor societies in states along the river. 

Always A River was one of Indiana Humanities’ most ambitious programs ever. Bringing this vision to life required three years of planning and assistance from numerous collaborators and sponsors, including the National Endowment for the Humanities; the humanities councils of Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania; the Exhibit House of Indianapolis; and the United States Army Corp of Engineers. The result of this work was a creative, fun and unique approach to showcasing one of America’s most important rivers. 

Throughline: Waterways

lways a River may have been Indiana Humanities’ first foray into the water, but we haven’t been afraid to jump back in. In fact, as we explore the intersection of the humanities and the environment through our current Unearthed programming theme, much of our focus has been on Indiana’s waterways.

An example of this is our Waterways Films, a series of six short documentaries produced by local filmmakers and centered on Hoosiers’ diverse relationships with water. Indiana Humanities issued a call for the films, provided stipends for the filmmakers then screened the films to audiences in 12 Indiana communities in 2022.

As part of our Unearthed programming, we also toured a Smithsonian-produced exhibition called Water/Ways to 11 sites across the state in 2021–2022. Small towns from New Harmony to North Webster hosted the exhibition, highlighting the important role that water plays in our lives—environmentally, culturally and historically. Each host curated its own section of the exhibit to explore its community’s relationship to water.

Indiana Humanities was founded in 1972 on the ideas of supportive grantmaking, public dialogue and ambitious projects. We’re celebrating 50 years because of curious Hoosiers like you. Please consider a gift in recognition of this milestone.