Smithsonian Exhibit on Democracy Coming to Cold Spring Harbor

A Cold Spring Harbor gallery will be the first in the state to host a traveling exhibition examining democracy in America.

“Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” presented by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street,  will open March 22 at the Preservation Long Island Exhibition Gallery in Cold Spring Harbor and be on view through May 3.

The project, in cooperation with the Museum Association of New York,  examines the nearly 250-year-old history of a government “of, by and for the people,” and how each generation since continues to question how to form “a more perfect union.”

Preservation Long Island, a regional not-for-profit organization headquartered in Cold Spring Harbor that maintains and interprets historic sites and collections pertaining to Long Island’s history, was selected by the museum consortium to be the first venue in New York State to host the exhibition.

This initiative is  part of the Museum on Main Street program—a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions to small town and rural cultural organizations across America. The exhibition will tour 12 communities across New York through January 2026:

“Preservation Long Island is excited to serve as the inaugural site for “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America,” said Alexandra Wolfe, Preservation Long Island executive director. “The exhibition’s focus on freedom, civic participation, and political engagement resonates strongly with our commitment to making the past relevant to the present.”

“Voices and Votes” explores the action, reaction, vision, and revision democracy demands as Americans continue to question how to shape American values. From the revolution and suffrage to civil rights and casting ballots, all communities are part of the evolving story of democracy in America. Exhibition sections explore the origins of American democracy, the struggles to obtain and keep the vote, the machinery of democracy, the right to petition and protest beyond the ballot and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. “Voices and Votes” engages multimedia interactives with short games; and historical objects like campaign souvenirs, voter memorabilia, and protest material.

The exhibition will include a section that incorporates art and artifacts drawn from Preservation Long Island and other local collections. “The objects we chose connect the broader historical narratives of Voices and Votes with Long Island people and stories—addressing themes such as the ways people make their voices heard, who is left out of the conversation, and the roles and responsibilities of citizens,” said Lauren Brincat, Preservation Long Island curator.

Among the local highlights in the exhibition is an original essay by Jupiter Hammon (1711–ca. 1806), America’s first published African American poet, written while he was enslaved at Joseph Lloyd Manor in Lloyd Harbor shortly after the American Revolution, advocating for the citizenship of Black New Yorkers in the new nation. Other items include a bracelet and ring made from scrap sheet metal by women aircraft factory workers on Long Island during World War II, and the drawings and models for the national monument to African American civil rights leader and women’s rights activist, Mary MacLeod Bethune (1875–1855), created by Long Island artist, Robert Berks (1922–2011) in 1974.

The series of local exhibition-related programming and free events include a community quilt project, curator-led exhibition and walking tours, lectures, community conversations and an oral history series; preview the full schedule:

“Voices and Votes” is based on an exhibition currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History called American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith.

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