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Museum exhibit captures prestigious award

Lorraine Scott and Rick Chandler with the museum’s award. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Lorraine Scott and Rick Chandler with the museum’s award.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

The idea was to marry old and new. To meld history with innovation, and tell the island’s stories of yesterday using the tools of today.

The idea apparently worked for the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, which last month garnered some big-time recognition for its long-term exhibit, “An Island Story.”

As the name suggests, the exhibit chronicles the island’s past, from logging to shipbuilding to internment. It opened in September, and last month earned the museum a prestigious MUSE award, from among some 180 entrants from across Europe, Asia and North America.

MUSE awards are given annually by the American Association of Museums to recognize excellence in media programs produced for or by museums.

Though it was an honorable mention, and not the top prize – that honor went to Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, home of the world’s largest Imax theater – sharing the stage with some heavyweight historical organizations was a humbling experience, said Curator Lorraine Scott.

“We felt like small fish, for sure,” Scott said, of attending the awards ceremony last month in Denver. “But we’re proud to be recognized on a national level.”

The exhibit’s unveiling was the culmination of a multi-year renovation effort that included, among other things, the collecting and compiling of numerous island artifacts, and the moving of the historic schoolhouse that now houses them.

The 1908 schoolhouse, which once sat on Strawberry Hill, was part of a massive remodel that also landed the museum some much needed basement storage.

The biggest challenge, Scott said, was trying to fit the island’s past into a 1,000-square-foot space. Pieces of the exhibit will be rotated out periodically to make way for equally deserving artifacts tucked away downstairs.

“It’s really tough,” she said. “All we can really do is give people a snapshot. You won’t know everything when you leave, but hopefully you’ll know enough to know what areas interest you if you want to learn more.”

Integral to the museum’s portrayal of the island’s history are touches of modernity that aim to bring the past to life. Motion sensors in the ceiling activate different sounds, like chirping local birds and rolling waves, as visitors pass by. Digital picture frames allow for almost endless possibilities when it comes to photo displays.

The exhibit, which will be the focal point of the museum for the next several years, includes multiple audio and visual histories that recount the tales of those who helped shape Bainbridge.

So far, attendance has been good, Scott said, with a few hundred visitors coming through the doors each month since the exhibit opened. Scott expects that number to grow significantly as it enters its first full summer tourist season.

For museum staff, volunteers and donors, the exhibit was a reward in itself; but the MUSE award is the capper.

“This is the fruit of four years of effort,” said Facilities Coordinator Rick Chandler, who joined Scott in Denver to accept the award.

The museum got the nod over several larger, better-funded facilities.

Other winners in the multimedia category were the national museum in Singapore, which recently doubled in size to 200,000 square feet, and a museum in upstate New York, dedicated to the historic Woodstock music festival that, recently took in some $100 million in donations.

Of 180 applicants, 38 were honored. Many were big players, Scott said. Though they deservedly garner much of the attention, smaller museums also play an important role in the perpetuation of local histories.

“Most museums are small to mid-size facilities that are collections of our culture, our history,” she said. “We just have to think creatively to fit a lot in a small space.”

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