Aberdeen Museum — we will get there

As someone with a day job in the history business, I deal regularly with how the passage of time affects a story. Aberdeen lost its museum in the armory fire just over three years ago, and while that seems a long time, in the context of the charge given the Museum Board to create an accredited museum worthy of Aberdeen’s rich history, it’s still the beginning.

The Daily World recently published an article headlined “Aberdeen museum board, mayor clash over museum plans.” The mayor was quoted saying, “The museum board has not accomplished any of the basics they set out in their goals.”

The mayor is also quoted as stating he has a vision of a museum run by volunteers. The Museum Board is made up of qualified volunteers — appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council — who have been working for three years to find a path back from the fire. We have repeatedly proposed the use of volunteers.

The mayor stated to the Museum Board in July that he “does not see the museum as a priority.” The Board has regularly expressed that the residents of Aberdeen see it as one.

The Museum Board is made up of some of Grays Harbor’s most qualified volunteers when it comes to the task at hand. We take the process of working within the Board of Museum and History Ordinance 2.64 seriously. The city needs to, as well.

On the heels of the fire, the Board set out and created a new framework for the Collections Policy and joined the American Alliance of Museums as part of the goal that the future museum will be operate in a manner that would allow accreditation.

The Museum Board conducted an extensive review of potential locations with an eye on repurposing a vacant building in the downtown area. There were public workshops and possible future locations were prioritized. No budget allowance to move these efforts forward has been made by the city

In addition to the help from the State Archives, the State Historical Society, the U of W School of Museology offered volunteer assistance that was declined by the city.

The Museum Board has been working with the State Historical Society on the peer review process and submitted operating agreement examples from other successful municipal museums in the state as examples of city/volunteer partnerships.

The Museum Board has tried to remain positive despite feeling that efforts are thwarted. We are resetting back to what was approved by the City Council after the fire, which is to create an accredited museum of high standards as outlined by the American Alliance of Museums. By keeping our eye on that goal, we will achieve a museum that celebrates our past and becomes a major participant in the economic development of our city.

On the one hand, it’s true that the Museum Board has not accomplished its goals. But I must put it in the context of a two-year settlement process and Covid-hindering progress. While the City Council has supported all of the Museum Board requests to date, the mayor has unilaterally declined to move forward with the board-developed plans for the collection’s reorganization and reengagement with the community. I hear the “Museum” referred to as an issue of “political will.” I encourage citizens to express their thoughts on the matter to the mayor and council.

We will get there. I am confident the board’s current plans for work on the collection, along with needed peer review from state experts, will serve the collection and our city well.

My sincere request is for everyone involved to trust the process. Going forward, it should not be about how we used to manage the museum. Let’s make it about creating an accredited, first-class experience that helps draw people into our Historic District to celebrate our culture and our history.

John Shaw is Board Chair of the Aberdeen Museum of History.