$175,000 Award Recognizes Founder Ruth J. Abram For Leadership, Dedication to Social Innovation
NEW LEBANON, NY, Nov.12, 2015 –– BEHOLD! New Lebanon, the nation’s first living museum of contemporary rural American life, today announced that it has been chosen to receive the J.M. Kaplan Innovation Prize. A new initiative of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, a New York-based family foundation that champions social, environmental, and cultural causes, the $175,000 Prize supports inter-disciplinary innovation in the fields of cultural heritage, human rights, the built environment, and the natural environment.
Piloted in 2014 and conducting its first full season in summer 2015, BEHOLD! New Lebanon (BNL) offers unprecedented access to small town rural life and a realistic picture of that life. To assist the economic and social development of their small town, residents teach the art of rural living in their fields, barns, and kitchens. BNL visitors –whether urban tourists, visitors, or local residents– are presented with a unique, personal experience that almost always includes an “I didn’t know that” moment. The award acknowledges the leadership and innovation of museum founder and president Ruth J. Abram, a social activist and historian. Previously, Abram was the founding president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. She also organized the Institute on Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College and the National Women’s Agenda Coalition.
“Behold! New Lebanon is a perfect example of the kind of hybrid, hard-to-categorize problem solving we wanted to support through the JMK Innovation Prize,” said the J.M. Kaplan Fund Executive Director Amy Freitag. “It is an elegant solution to a pressing need in struggling, rural communities.” Abram, a resident of New Lebanon, has consulted on historic interpretation for museums around the world including the National Park Service, the National Public Housing Museum, Lincoln’s Cottage, Weeksville, the Gulag Museum in Russia, the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh, and the English Workhouse Museum. Her contributions have been recognized by numerous awards and fellowships including from New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, Muhlenberg College, Russell Sage College, Hebrew Union College, and the Aspen Institute. “Aside from the welcome financial benefit, the J.M. Kaplan Prize affirms the importance and innovation of the work BEHOLD! New Lebanon is doing in social and economic development,” said Abram. “In so doing, it draws attention to the problems and promise of rural America.” Winners were chosen from among 1,138 applicants representing many areas of interest, including: criminal justice, food systems, cultural heritage, technology, public health, economic empowerment, and the arts. For three generations, the J.M. Kaplan Fund has provided catalytic funding for projects in early stages of development. Work supported by the Fund has involved a level of measured risk that ultimately led to large-scale, transformative results. Through workshops on the art of rural living conducted by residents in one small town, BEHOLD! New Lebanon pilots a much-needed new model for economic and social development for rural America, and a new role for museums. Recognizing that many worthwhile ideas fail to find backing from established funders, the J.M.K. Innovation Prize will fill a gap by providing critical capital to the social innovation field. The award provides up to three years of support at $50,000 per year, as well as a $25,000 “bank” of funds available for technical assistance or targeted project expenses, making a total award of up to $175,000. View the J.M. Kaplan Innovation Prize Video About BEHOLD! New Lebanon BEHOLD! New Lebanon is a non-profit museum offering unprecedented public access behind the scenes of contemporary rural America Pioneering a new concept in community/economic development for rural America, BNL models an expanded role for museums in American culture. With 40 different tour programs in its first full season, BEHOLD! New Lebanon’s rural guides greet visitors at their farms, studios and workspaces, as they cook, preserve produce, farm organically, , raise heritage cattle, train animals, race and repair automobiles, design jewelry track animals, forage for food and much more. Far from costumed actors recalling old-world skills, Behold! docents are real townspeople, whose lives and work challenge myths about country life while inspiring all who have dreamed of fashioning life on their own terms. Information is available at www.BeholdNewLebanon.org. # # # Media Contact: Edward Bride, 413-442-7718 (Ed@edbride-pr.com)