By Melinda Munson

The Museum Board met for the first time since March 1, 2018, due to inability to form a quorum and COVID-19, according to board chair, Bob Deitrick. Municipality code requires the board, an advisory council, to meet at least once per year.

Deitrick was re-elected chair. Bruce Schindler was named vice-chair and Janilyn Heger, who replaced Carl Mulvihilll, will act as secretary. Cori Giacomazzi and Donna Griffard are also board members.

During Citizens Present, Wendy Anderson addressed the board and Judith Munns, museum director since 1995.

“I just wanted to thank Judy and the museum for being here throughout COVID-19. It was so nice to have a place in Skagway where we could send people … I also had the privilege of working on the Rapuzzi Committee, back then I guess it was 2014 at this point. And I know that there’s been a lot of community frustration about not a lot of visible activity happening with the museum. But as part of being on that committee, I really learned how when the city took on the Rapuzzi Collection, how much work they were doing behind the scenes … how much Judy as a one person department has done to process that collection and bring it into the public sphere.”

Once located in the upper floor of City Hall in the form of artifacts laid out on long tables, the museum now occupies the bottom floor of the building, with many of those same artifacts encased in glass to protect them from deterioration. Started with a focus on the gold rush, the museum now houses contemporary Skagway artists and cultural objects Native people actually used, not just the curio objects being sold to tourists. 

Munn is the only museum employee, except for in the summer season when four part-time employees make up a 1.2 position. She described the challenges of the current museum space to the board.

“Much of what we do here is not doing creative exhibitions. We’re cleaning, we’re constantly monitoring and cleaning,” she said.

With open doorways to allow for airflow for COVID mitigation, dust and wind are a constant concern. The museum is not environmentally controlled, which disqualifies it from many traveling exhibits. According to Munn, the biggest concern is space. The museum only has room for a small portion of its collection. The municipality rents out nine storage containers to house the rest of the museum’s inventory.

“Everything that’s in those containers and storage units is day by day depreciating in quality, it cannot be sustained in those spaces,” Munn said, speaking of the long-term consequences.

Assemblymember Sam Bass, Museum Board liaison, asked the board to name a place that could work for museum expansion. 

“Is there a building that you guys have your eyes on?” he said.

The board suggested the old fire hall and old city hall, the commissary and several other buildings not currently in use, many of which need renovations. 

Janilyn Heger proposed utilizing several buildings for a museum passport system.

“You wouldn’t necessarily find everything in one building, you could find focus parts of the collection,” she said. “…And then you’ve got people going through more of Skagway to get to those different facilities.”

Munns was excited by the thought of displaying industrial equipment at the old fire hall with the added component of hands-on technical classes, or using another building for a historical reading room.

She suggested the community decide what they want the museum to grow into and craft a five or 10-year plan.

According to Munns, in 2020, the Skagway Museum hosted approximately 23,000 visitors. In comparison, Ketchikan’s museum had about 15,000 visitors and the Alaska State Museum in Juneau saw 20,000 individuals. 

The next Museum Board meeting is April 25 at 1 p.m. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday, 1 to 4 p.m. during the winter. Free admission for locals.