Missouri encompasses 114 counties, and Michael Sweeney’s goal is to get each one involved in the state’s upcoming bicentennial celebrations.

If this sounds like a big goal, Sweeney, the Missouri bicentennial coordinator, and other members of the State Historical Society of Missouri have been gearing up since 2013 to reach it. Missouri’s 200th birthday is in 2021.

The event aims to promote understanding of Missouri’s history, identity and future aims through a variety of unique programs. Sweeney says right now he is in the “seed-planting” phase, which has taken him across the state to connect with librarians, political figures, businesses owners and other committed, everyday Missourians.

Throughout this journey, the state’s diversity has stood out most.

“Often, I think our various parts are not understood or appreciated. The bicentennial is an opportunity to promote an understanding of these various communities,” Sweeney reflected.

“Maybe we won’t come to an understanding of one Missouri – I don’t even know if that’s a desirable thing – but I do hope people know their neighbor better and have a better sense of shared investment.”

These neighbors include people like Mary Norell, the mayor of Stockton, Missouri. She raved to Sweeney about the Black Walnut Festival, an annual event that draws thousands of visitors.

This enthusiasm for local traditions followed Sweeney wherever he traveled. In Marceline, a restaurant owner served him a “dusty miller,” an ice cream parfait with Milk Duds. At the Sedalia Public Library, he learned about Miss English, a librarian whose ghost is said to haunt the historic establishment.

Sweeney stresses that simple customs and anecdotes like these can play a key role in shaping the bicentennial. Rather than seeking out an overwhelming or completely new project, he encourages communities members to look at what they are already doing and consider how it fits the bicentennial’s message.

For example, Sweeney says Juneteenth, the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s annual festival celebrating the end of slavery, exemplifies local history and culture. Projects like these can receive a Missouri 2021 endorsement, which means they will be promoted through the bicentennial’s website, social media and calendar.

“What does ... a year in the life of your church look like, or your Rotary club, or your synagogue, or any associations that you’re a part of?” Sweeney asked. “On their own, these things may seem insignificant, but not when you start pulling pieces together.”

One of the currently open projects is the My Missouri 2021 Photograph Project, in whcih people can submit photos of places in Missouri. Staff from the State Historical Society of Missouri and guest curators from different regions will judge the photos, ultimately selecting 200 for digital and physical display as part of the bicentennial. Guidelines can be found at missouri2021.org/my-missouri.

People can also begin submitting topic suggestions to the Missouri Encyclopedia project, which aims to make information about the state’s history and culture accessible. This can be done at missouriencyclopedia.org.

Several projects are in the works, including a bicentennial quilt, a music project and passport stamp book project, which would encourage Missourians to visit local sites such as art galleries, libraries and monuments.

Above all, Sweeney emphasizes that he wants to hear from people about any projects they’d like to create or lead.

“I’m happy to meet anyone, anytime and anywhere that I can make it happen,” Sweeney said.

To contact Michael Sweeney, the Missouri bicentennial coordinator, email him at sweeneymic@shsmo.org.