Old Economy Village Wins PA Museums Statewide Institutional Award of Merit



Old Economy Village received an Institutional Award of Merit for Bringing History Alive from PA Museums at the statewide museum association’s Annual Statewide Museum Conference. Old Economy Village’s Curator, Sarah Buffington,  also received an individual achievement award. The awards ceremony was held at the Brandywine River Museum of Art on Monday, April 8, 2019.

Bringing History Alive at Old Economy Village is a long-term initiative designed to significantly improve the visitor experience at Old Economy.  Through zone tours, hands-on activities, and increased craft and trade demonstrations, visitors will have the opportunity to fully explore Old Economy and see what life was like for the Harmonists who lived here in the nineteenth century. It was conceived in the spring of 2017 when former Board member Steve Roberts proposed approaching foundations to seek support to implement some of the changes that were being discussed to improve visitor services and programs at Old Economy Village.  Steve recommended contacting the Jack Buncher Foundation to discuss the concept and get their suggestions on how to approach other funding sources to assist with the initiative. 

Much to our surprise, the Jack Buncher Foundation made significant recommendations to strengthen the proposal and provided the Friends of Old Economy Village (FOEV) with a $50,000 Challenge Grant to get the project off the ground.  What a way to get the process moving! On April 4, 2018, Old Economy Village opened for the 2018 season and Bringing History Alive was under way.  The results of the initiative have been very good to date. It has truly changed the visitor experience and is accomplishing the goals set out to increase attendance and awareness of this National Historic Landmark. 

If you want something to get done, ask Sarah Buffington to do it.  No matter the task – it could be IT related, a collections question, an exhibit fix, or a special event issue – Sarah is always willing to step up, help out, and make sure everything is accomplished well. For the past 16 years, Sarah Buffington has worked as a Curator at Old Economy Village.  When she arrived in 2002 she was one of three curators charged with the care and stewardship of a large collection of artifacts, archival materials, and a major historical library created by the Harmony Society.  Today, due to budget cuts, she is the sole curator responsible for the care stewardship of these collections.  For many that would be a daunting task, but for Sarah it is a matter of making a list, getting things done, crossing the items off the list, and then updating the list. 

Every year, Sarah researches, designs, develops, and installs a 1,000 sq. ft. temporary exhibit in Old Economy’s Visitor Center.  These exhibits have been well thought out, attractively designed, and have been enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.  In addition to these temporary exhibits, Sarah is responsible for the exhibits found in the Village’s sixteen historic buildings.  Working with a team of staff and volunteers, she reviews each exhibit regularly and rotates artifacts and makes changes to refresh each display.  Sarah also works with college interns to create small temporary exhibits that grace the Visitor Center lobby area.  Sarah was also they lead staff member responsible for the development and implementation of the $1.2 million George and Frederick Rapp Houses restoration and exhibit installation.

On an annual basis Sarah works with 40 to 50 researchers who come to Old Economy to utilize the archives and library.  Some of these researchers are pursuing scholarly work on the Harmony Society, communal societies in the nineteenth century, pietist emigration from Europe to America, and other similar topics.  Other researchers are descendants of Harmonist dissenters who left the Society or descendants of hired workers looking to learn more about their family’s heritage.

Sarah Buffington loves what she does, and it shows.  She is a critical part of the Old Economy Village team and is looked upon as a role model by all.  Her enthusiasm for learning about the Harmonists and sharing that knowledge with others through many media – exhibits, lectures, newsletter columns, the website, Facebook and more has helped educate hundreds of thousands to the story of the Harmony Society and the mission of Old Economy Village.  Thank you for considering Sarah Buffington for this prestigious PA Museums award. Since the 1980s, PA Museums has invited nominations from its membership and chosen projects that are exemplary to receive recognition. This year twelve (12) organizations from every region of Pennsylvania will be recognized with Institutional Awards of Merit.

At the PA Museums conference, about 150 attendees will gather at the Brandywine River Museum of Art for professional development sessions. Each day will kick off with a special keynote session. Monday, Carrie Fischer Lepore, Deputy Director, Tourism and Film at the Department of Community and Economic Development, will speak about Pennsylvania’s newest initiatives to attract tourists. On Tuesday, Anne Ackerson and Joan Baldwin will present on their recent work around gender equity in museums. Attendees will enjoy 14 other conference sessions, networking events, and tours of the Brandywine River Museum of Art. The conference sessions cover a broad range of museum-related topics and innovative programs.

“PA Museums’ Special Achievement Awards ceremony is something we really look forward to!” said Rusty Baker, executive director of PA Museums. “Pennsylvania’s museums and historical organizations are star performers, and we are proud to recognize the great work being done.”

PA Museums is Pennsylvania’s statewide museum association with 350 institutional members across the Commonwealth. PA Museums’ membership includes museums and historical organizations of many types and sizes, and in addition to providing professional development opportunities for museum professionals, the organization also leads advocacy campaigns on behalf of the museum community.