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Strategic plan calls for freshening up museum

Becky Vargo • Apr 4, 2019 at 11:00 AM

A strategic plan approved last month by the Tri-Cities Historical Museum Board of Directors has paved the way for numerous changes in the displays at the museum’s downtown location, 200 Washington Ave., according to Museum Director Julie Bunke.

“Permanent exhibit life is usually up to 12-15 years,” Bunke said. “Many of our exhibits have been here since 2004.”

For example, the permanent medical display since the Akeley Building was renovated and opened as a museum 15 years ago is gone and is being replaced by the Coast Guard exhibit that was so popular last summer, Bunke said. Half of the Coast Guard exhibit will be made up of items that were on display last summer in the second-floor Centennial Hall. The rest were pulled from the museum’s archives.

“With the redesign, we’ve been talking with Coast Guard veterans and making sure we were able to tell the story (of the Coast Guard in Grand Haven) properly,” said Jared Yax, the museum’s curator of exhibits.

That includes information on the four Coast Guard vessels that made Grand Haven their homeport over the years. The museum has models of the Escanaba, Raritan and Acacia, but not the Woodbine, so Yax found a large painting of the Woodbine in the archives and it hangs on the wall surrounded by life rings from each one of the ships.

The original Fresnel lens installed in the Grand Haven lighthouse in 1855 is part of the display. There are also Coast Guard uniforms; a crumb tray from the captain’s mess on the Woodbine; and an area dedicated to the SPARS, the women in the Coast Guard.

Museum officials are also negotiating to have an old Escanaba lifeboat loaned by its owner as part of the display. The lifeboat is stored all year and then brought to the Escanaba Memorial during the Coast Guard Festival.

Part of the strategic plan calls for updating museum lighting and wall paint to better show off displays.

Bunke said they just finished redoing the Ekkens store, which is located on the first floor at the back of the museum. Mustardy-yellow walls were covered with a neutral off-white. Improved lighting also makes it easier to see the artifacts, she said.

A photo of the interior of the store was blown up and fixed to the back wall so that you see what the store really looked like when you walk in the door. Shelves in the store line up with the shelves in the photo.

Bunke said they also worked with teachers on what would make the store a better learning environment for students. So, artifacts were placed in climate-controlled cases on the upper shelves and replicas of items you might have found in the store are on the lower shelves. This makes it easy for children to have an interactive and sensory experience, Yax said.

There are eggs children can weigh on a scale. There will be electronic ledgers so children can write down what they are “buying” and add up their bill.

Other exhibits in the building now include more interactive displays for both children and adults.

Employees will cover each area of the museum, replacing artifacts in the displays, while keeping the theme of the museum intact, Bunke said. With more than 65,000 objects in the museum archives, this allows them a chance to put more items on display, while resting others, she said. 

Yax said they are also working on new storyboards for the displays. These will have larger text and smaller amounts of copy.

Digital technology will be added in the storyboards and in interactive displays.

“We interviewed stakeholders, visitors and members,” Bunke said. “The overwhelming response is to freshen up the museum.”

During the winter, the museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m.  From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the museum is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 12-5 p.m. Sundays. The museum is closed Mondays year-round.

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

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