Brian Failing is a museum professional with a passion for sharing local history. He is currently the Executive Director of the Aurora Regional Fire Museum located in Aurora, IL.
By: Linda E. Alberty, M.A.
American Historian Carl Becker once said, “Every man is his [or her] own historian.” These powerful words allude to the notion that we all have the capacity and ability to make history no matter where we are or how long we are there.
CULTIVATE EXCELLENCE recently interviewed Brian Failing, Executive Director of The Aurora Regional Fire Museum, to unpack the greater meaning behind the importance of understanding local history. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to build a legacy if we knew what type of legacy was built previously or the lack thereof?
"History is very relevant no matter what walk of life you come from ..."
The Aurora Regional Fire Museum is located in Aurora's old Central Fire Station. The museum is open to the public regular hours, and features a variety of interactive exhibits designed to educate and entertain children, families, and firefighters.
Brian is a big advocate that history not only awakens us to discover what was, it can also lead us on a road to identify present-day needs. While the museum’s mission is to connect people to history dating as far back as the 1890s, it also prides itself in being a community hub.
“History is very relevant no matter what walk of life you come from. "If you visit the Aurora Regional Fire Museum and glean information from one of our exhibits, great. But getting involved and connecting to something current is our goal.”
In an effort to collaborate with other non-profits in Aurora, Brian is the catalyst in getting people directly involved with history by incorporating a cause they already love. He is currently working with the Aurora Area Humane Society to host an adoption event at the museum next spring that will tie in a display about the history of animals working in the firehouse, such as Dalmatians. Other examples of bringing multiple audiences together, include inviting the community to a Holiday Museum Open House where visitors can bring along non-perishable food items to donate to the Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry. At this point these are still ideas, but they are examples nonetheless of steps the museum is taking in order to collaborate across causes.
At the surface, most people may not think attending a community event is an act of understanding history. However, Brian suggests that history is all about creating a community.
When people start conversations about what once was by using primary sources like newspapers, talking to neighbors, or networking through community organizations, they are more likely to take steps towards creating what can be — History.
Above is Aurora Regional Fire Museum's Hose Tower, extending 55ft and dating back to the 1890's. Museum visitors simply look up and are surprised by this great wonder.
Everyday we are partakers of history, whether we are conscious of it or not. If we are open to learning our local history it can lead us to new spaces, places and most importantly people. If you’ve always desired to get involved locally with your community, but don’t know where to start, check out Brian’s history treasure hunt starter kit:
Ask Yourself: What’s important to you? Think about what you are interested in but haven’t had the ability to do and find an organization that will allow you to do that. Many times we are familiar with the layout and location of our neighborhood, but we don’t know what organizations are hidden within our local community.
Get Curious: Be adventurous by uncovering local history and learn about the programs, events, and activities around you. You may just find something that you never knew existed or perhaps even something that brings new meaning to your life and helps you grow, simply by being curious.
Be Open: Learning about your local community’s history is a lot like a scavenger hunt. You don’t know what exists until you step out and find it. In the process, it may open up extremely meaningful connections, valuable networking experiences, and personal and professional growth and development.
Ask Questions: Visit your local library to discover what is happening. Reach out to your local Park District, Chamber of Commerce or Visitor’s Bureau. They know what is happening, even if you do not know exactly what you are looking for. They are an excellent resource and can put you in contact with someone that can help you.
History is all around us and if we take that for granted, we will never know the surprising rewards it can bring to our lives once we open our eyes to it.
Brian Failing is a museum professional with a passion for sharing local history. He is currently the Executive Director of the Aurora Regional Fire Museum in Aurora, IL and has worked with a variety of local museums. Brian has an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University and a BA in History and Urban & Suburban Studies from North Central College. He is active in various professional organizations including, the American Association for State and Local History, Illinois Association of Museums, and the National Council on Public History. In his spare time, Brian enjoys researching his own family’s history, visiting museums, and building Lego.
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