It's easy to be gloomy about the state of Northwest heritage, what with so many endangered properties, Heritage Turkeys, and budget cuts. But there are good things happening too.
On the museum front, for example, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle will soon be ensconced in its new home on the shore of South Lake Union. The new exhibit space will give new visibility to MOHAI and help anchor a nexus of heritage in one of Seattle's newest, and booming neighborhoods, a place where history too often has been torn down. The public grand opening will be Saturday, Dec. 29th.
And the museum scene in Tacoma is hopping. Talking over coffee at the Madison Park Starbucks recently, Jennifer Kilmer, the new head of the Washington State Historical Society (WSHS), pointed out that the society's home of Tacoma will shortly have six major museums within walking distance from downtown.
Six? There's the Washington State History Museum, of course, and the Museum of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Children's Museum, and the just-opened LeMay auto museum. "America's Car Museum" they call it. And by spring, 2013, the new exhibit hall at the Foss Waterway Seaport will be ready. The old Kalakala might be endangered, but big money has been put into maritime heritage on Tacoma's waterfront. The city of many a promised renaissance also has an enviable stock of historic buildings, and this museum district is a place you can visit by train, streetcar, or on foot.
Kilmer refuses to be brought down by this Mossback's worries about the future of state heritage funding, which has been slashed in recent years (what hasn't?). She describes herself as being filled with a "determined optimism," which is a good thing for the head of the state's historical society, which oversees much more than the state museum.
It also coordinates Washington's Heritage Capital Projects grants program (fixing up historic structures around the state), publishes the best popular history magazine in the state (the 25-year-old quarterly Columbia), supports local historical societies, creates exhibits and teaching materials that bring history into schoolrooms all around the state, and has played a key role in developing a new Lewis & Clark and Chinook Indian historic site. Middle Village-Station Camp is about to be turned over to the National Park Service. Times might be tough in heritage, but no one is standing still, least of all Kilmer.
Kilmer took over the WSHS in October of last year, when longtime director Dave Nicandri — a respected historian and savvy manager of the state's premier heritage institution — retired. Kilmer isn't a historian but rather a non-profit manager and fundraiser with an academic background in political science and philosophy (undergrad at Wellesley, Masters at Oxford). She worked for Paul Allen's various charitable foundations, then took over and grew the Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor, leading a capital campaign to build a few facility that raised over $12 million. If she can do that for Gig Harbor, what can she do statewide?
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!