Program includes county attractions

Government officials from Shelby County, Columbiana and Alabaster and representatives from the Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington, American Village and the University of Montevallo pose for a photo Thursday afternoon during a launch celebration at Vulcan Park and Museum for BACHE's new cultural passport program. (Reporter photo/Brad Gaskins)

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM – Two of Shelby County’s cultural attractions are participating in a new program designed to expose incoming freshmen at area colleges to the greater Birmingham area’s top cultural attractions.

Columbiana’s Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington and Montevallo’s American Village are two of the 12 cultural attractions featured in the “Cultural Passport” program.

Created by the Birmingham Consortium for Higher Education, the program has a passport-sized booklet that will be given to students entering fall classes at Samford, Miles College, UAB, Birmingham-Southern and the University of Montevallo.

The booklet describes the 12 attractions and provides free admission.

“What a fantastic opportunity for students,” the University of Montevallo’s Kathy King said Thursday afternoon during a launch celebration for the program at Vulcan Park and Museum.

King is Montevallo’s director of faculty development and collaboration and is a member of the BACHE council. She also teaches freshmen English and said she would incorporate the new program into her curriculum.

“By taking the passport and getting the students to go outside the classroom, we’re enriching their world,” she said.

American Village’s Treva Medbery said college students regularly visit for school projects. The program, she said, will expose even more students to American Village.

Students who visit through the passport program will tour American Village and interact with historical interpreters and staff members. In return, American Village hopes to increase its visibility.

“We’re sort of a well-hidden secret,” said Medbery, American Village’s officer for educational initiative. “We don’t want to be that. We want to be well-known across the state of Alabama and the southeast region.”

Bonnie Atchison has been the curator at the George Washington museum for eight years. She said the passport program is “just another avenue for us to get out the message and the story about the father of our country.”

Bonnie Atchison, curator at the Karl C. Harrison Museum of George Washington. (Reporter photo/Brad Gaskins)

Helen Harrison Phillips, the daughter of museum founder Karl C. Harrison, said “we’re honored that we’ve been chosen for such a wonderful endeavor, and we will support it wholeheartedly.”

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said he’s “proud the museum has the recognition it deserves.”

“Mr. Harrison would be very proud of the legacy he’s left for Columbiana,” Lowe said.

From left: Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe, Shelby County Commission Chairman Corley Ellis and Alabaster Mayor David Frings pose for a photo during the launch celebration. (Reporter photo/Brad Gaskins)

Shelby County Commission Chairman Corley Ellis said the passport program will draw attention to Shelby County’s cultural attractions, which “are sometimes overlooked.”

The George Washington museum and American Village “have been growing in exposure,” Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock said.

From a business standpoint, Dudchock said strong cultural attractions can be selling points when recruiting new businesses to the county.

“This fits in to a healthy quality of living,” Dudchock said.

Other cultural attractions in the program include Alabama Ballet, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and Museum, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham Museum of Art, Opera Birmingham, Tuscaloosa Museum of Art and Vulcan Park and Museum.