Story last updated at 3:20 p.m. Friday, August 9, 2002

Pratt Museum project lures $680,000 in grants
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Several years after unveiling its dream for new, story-based exhibits, two large grants have added necessary resources and validation to the Pratt Museum project.

The museum received a $384,000 grant from the National Leadership Grant program in July, and last week learned of a second grant for $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Not only will the two grants go a long way in funding the project, they also add merit to the concept behind the exhibits.

The museum's master exhibition plan, dubbed "Kachemak Bay, An Exploration of People and Place," hopes to tell the story of the area's people, flora, fauna and geology through individual and group stories. Many of the stories will be presented in both video form as well as with artifacts.

The National Leadership Grant not only awarded money, but praise as well, nominating Homer's museum as one of five nationwide with exhibits and programs that would be a model for other museums in the nation, said museum Director Michael Hawfield.

"It's a great coup for the museum and the community of Homer to be evaluated on a national scale this way," Hawfield said.

According to Hawfield, the funds will help get the first phase of the exhibit plan started, as well as pay for the gathering of more stories on video. An initial unveiling of the new exhibit is expected in late 2003, he said, though the museum is never expected to close. Instead, the switch to story-based exhibits will unfold over many years.

"We are developing the basic compendium of resources that allow us to fill the exhibit designs," Hawfield said.

Some prototypes for the exhibit have already been on display. Earlier this year, the story of Homer homesteader Ruth Kilcher was displayed using a video as well as items from the Kilcher homestead cabin.

The video focused on Kilcher's diary, as well as interviews with her children, many of whom still live in the area.

Hawfield said while the museum is anxious to get the stories of many more homesteaders, the Kilcher display served as a test for reactions to the new exhibit concept.

"There was a high level of interest and curiosity, especially among tourists," Hawfield said.

In addition to homesteaders, Hawfield said, the museum plans to gather stories and compose similar videos for other groups in the community, like the hippies who moved here in the early 1970s, the Spit Rats (or campers on the Homer Spit), fishermen, Alaska Natives, the Russian villages and more. Significant work to that end has already been done, Hawfield said, but more is left to do.

"We need to work on the development of the stories, as well as more interviews and more videography," he said. "We are developing a huge body of material."

As the exhibits progress, there will be many more opportunities for community involvement, Hawfield said.

"This is not just a curator determining what the story is, the community itself is determining what it wants to say about itself," he said.

While the grant funding is a boost, the museum will need to raise significantly more money to fully realize the exhibit dream, Hawfield said, a task museum staff have taken on with vigor.

"I am really proud of the work that everybody over the years has done to develop the concept," Hawfield said. "They have pulled together a concept that has drawn national attention."

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