Each year we provide a summary of where we've been, what we've done, and how we did it. While 2020 was a wild ride from pandemic to the presidential election, the Harbor History Museum survived and aims to thrive in 2021.
We began the year as unsuspecting as a happy-go-lucky traveler walking into the den of a sleeping dragon. When March arrived, we shut our doors half-way in, donning masks and hoping the Coronavirus dragon would pass us by. But the voracity of its flames would not be denied. The virus not only arrived, it thrived, leaving 16 Gig Harbor/Key Peninsulaites dead and more than 1000 infected. Our hearts go out to all those who have suffered and lost loved ones to this terrible virus.
Like museums across the country, we had improvise and reinvent our programming. First came the installation of "window exhibits" featuring "Bomber Boys" and "Salmon, Seiners, and Life on the Sea." Next we launched the new, "Quarantine Slapperdashery" website HarborMysteryMuseum.org that has been exploring the mysteries of our local history ever since. While our galleries were closed, we improvised again and opened an outdoor exhibit, "Emerson & the Porpoise: Two Centuries of Rowing the Pacific" made possible by Jacob Hendrickson and the MJF Foundation. This exhibit features two incredible rowboats; Emerson that was rowed across the Pacific from Neah Bay to Cairnes, Australia, between 2018-2019 and the 1841 replica Porpoise that is the survey gig that literally gave Gig Harbor its name. With these exhibits came our first virtual programs, which set a new bar for our member service and participation.
“Despite closures and major drops in operating revenue, we were able to stay the course with our capital campaign.”
Throughout the pandemic closures, work was able to continue on the Shenandoah and planning for the Maritime Gallery. As a state Heritage Capital Project, the Governor allowed work to continue on restoration/construction efforts. This year also brought more good news on the grant front, with the National Park Service naming the Shenandoah an American Treasure. Funds from this grant will support the full restoration of the boat's 1949 deckhouse and the construction of a period-correct wooden mast.
See our Capital Project Fund Dashboard here.
As might be expected, our visitor numbers fell. Where once we welcomed more than 1500 school students in a year, we saw only XXX. Where once our general public visitor counts topped 12,000, we saw just over 3,500. This was the result of pandemic closures from March 14 to July 9, and another partial closure from October through the end of the year. Our innovations in exhibits, Mercantile operations, e-newsletters, and programs kept the love alive in the darkest hours.
Throughout it all, our members and donors showed their tremendous support. We appreciate each and every donation to our COVID and Annual funds, every purchase at the Museum Mercantile, and every bid at our first ever virtual History Rocks auction. As a private non-profit museum, we are 100% community funded. This means that each year we must fund our entire budget from grants, contributions, sponsorships, and earned income from mission-related programming. Unlike schools, parks, and libraries, our museum has no dedicated tax funding. This can make for an exciting ride when it comes to budgeting.
Speaking of Budgets
As might be expected, our 2020 budget started out one way and ended entirely different. As can be seen in our Operating Dashboard, we began the year with plans for a mega-10-year anniversary History Rocks party, and ended with a completely online event. As a result, our income was significantly reduced (even if a few folks put an extra tip in the jar to see me jump into the bay!). The upside of the change was that we learned how to take an auction into the virtual space, and how to do so even better for 2021. While the impacts have been many, including our 2021 budget and continued reduced hours, we remain hopeful for a brighter future for the Harbor History Museum.
“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.