This article was first published in the “Eyes on History” column in the York County Coast Star on July 27, 2017.
During my freshman year at American University in Washington, D.C., I remember very clearly sitting in my cramped dorm room with my high school friend who had come to visit me for the weekend. Since she had never been to D.C. before, I said, “Where would you like to go? Air and Space Museum? American History Museum? Washington Monument? Walk by the White House? Lincoln Memorial…” Before I could finish listing choices (of which there are too many), my friend plainly said, “I don’t do history, and I don’t do museums.” My heart sunk. What on earth do you do in Washington, D.C. that has nothing to do with either of those things? After about two hours of shopping at the then-operating Borders Bookstore, I started worrying about the future of history. Especially since that was my chosen field of work.
Every person on the face of the Earth, without exception, has a lineage stretching back to the very beginning of time. Random individuals don’t just pop up without a genealogical line that goes as far back as time itself.
Within the history that we all share is everything that our culture has ever done and accomplished. Every piece of art, every discovery of science, every war, every social shift is a part of that story. So I circle back to my friend from college; I suppose I was so astonished at her statement because, as I just described, we can never escape history. All that matters is what we decide to do with the knowledge.
The existential crisis of every history museum in the nation (and the world) in the 21st Century is this: how do we reach the people that seemingly have no use for or relationship to history? How do we sustain institutions that preserve our nation’s many histories if no one supports them?
As a museum director, I sadly do not have an answer. I don’t think anyone does. But, I can say that this very issue is written directly into the Brick Store Museum’s mission statement: The Brick Store Museum exists to ignite personal connections to local history, art and culture. Our personal connections to history and art are what make us who we are. How do we make sure history is saved and used for good? Nationally, museums face a critical turning point as we move into the 21st Century. All too often, museums of any size are viewed as: static, boring, stuck up, stuffy, or “old-fashioned.” We know this, and are trying to change that perception with everything we do.
The Brick Store Museum is a small museum of art and history that connects the past with the present to inspire our communities to become better global citizens in a world connected only by the experiences we share. As an educational space for all ages, we do this in a variety of ways. In the past 18 months, we have mounted 18 different exhibitions; welcomed nearly 7,500 visitors of all ages; accepted hundreds of Kennebunk and York County-related artifacts into our collection of 70,000 items; assisted with over 200 hours of research for those seeking more information about local history, their homes, and their families. We are the only privately-funded museum in the entire state to be open year-round, full-time. Continuous programs include third, fourth and fifth grade field trips from RSU 21; learning partnerships with Kennebunk High School and The New School; a monthly lecture series (Third Thursday Talks); the digitization of over 3,000 images of local history; an archaeological partnership with the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust; special events like the Vintage Base Ball Game, the Steampunk Fair, and the Holiday Tea; and so much more that I don’t have the space to write.
Comparably, the Brick Store Museum is a small museum compared to the Portland Museum of Art, Strawbery Banke, and the Boston museums. But we are a small museum powerhouse! And we absolutely couldn’t do it without the support, attendance, and good humor of our community. The combined power of individuals, businesses and foundations all working together wills this museum into continual existence every year (and we’ve been here since 1936!). As the museum receives no town, state or federal support, we depend on the personal connection to history to drive every dollar that supports the museum. For that very reason (among many other reasons!), we cannot allow the relevance of history to go by the wayside.
In closing, I’m going to go back to my friend who didn’t want anything to do with history or museums. Have you met someone like that? I am issuing you a challenge: Invite that person to go with you to the Brick Store Museum. Call me at (207) 985-4802 and tell me you’re coming. We’ll go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the collection, and we’ll see how many minds we can change. Because the future of history depends on you.