Kodiak History Museum wins award for service to the humanities in community

The Kodiak History Museum won the Governor’s Arts & Humanities Distinguished Service to the Humanities in Community Award.

According to a press release from the Alaska Humanities Forum, the museum, is being recognized for its service “as an essential and beloved community resource dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and sharing the full breadth of the history of the Kodiak archipelago. KHM is leading the way in decolonizing small museums and has proven to be a catalyst of change in Kodiak, strengthening community by forging connections between people across race, class, and cultural divides.”

Sarah Harrington, Executive Director of the Kodiak History Museum, says that the award was for the museum’s hard work to tell the whole story of Kodiak.

“We reopened in May of 2019 as the Kodiak History Museum, with brand new, inclusive, and accessible exhibits, that were really oriented on telling Kodiak’s chronological stories, all the way from when the Russian-American Magazine was built around 1808 into present day Kodiak time,” Harrington said.

“Previously, our exhibits really focused on stories of colonization, both Russian and early American colonization, stories of wealth and power in our community. And we wanted to go above and beyond in recognizing the stories that we hadn’t been telling. So stories of the fishing community and the Coast Guard presence here, World War II stories and immigrant stories… and also just really make sure that we are clearly communicating to the Kodiak community that everyone’s story belongs at the museum.”

Harrington also says that a big part of the museum’s effort was put into making a environment for cooperation in storytelling between the museum and the Kodiak community.

“We also have been making changes to our temporary exhibit model that really focused on partnering with community members to co-create exhibits, with those partners that are focused on stories that the community recognizes as important to their exhibits, chosen by the community, for the community,” Harrington said.

“And that model really flips the previous model of exhibit curation on its head. It’s kind of common practice in museums that curators and museum staff kind of tell the community, ‘this is what we’ve been focused on or what we’ve been researching and we want to share with you,’ but it kind of puts the museum staff in more of an expert role in terms of what’s important when we look back at our history. And we wanted to slow that down a little bit and to create meaningful dialogue together with our community members looking to history as a guide, but offering our resources and platform for the community to tell its own stories, draw its own conclusions.”

She says that this award celebrated the work of many hands.

“I want to pause and just recognize all of the team players who have served the museum so meaningfully in the last number of years. We’re a small staff of just four people right now. But we would not have been able to achieve, you know, the redesign of the exhibit, or this recognition without the diligence and dedication of everyone who’s worked on the project since its conception,” Harrington said.

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