Officials celebrate one-year anniversary of Hillsboro location

The Washington County Museum is making its own history this month as it celebrates its first anniversary at its new location in the Hillsboro Civic Center.

“It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year,” said Beth Dehn, the museum’s curator of education and folklife.

The museum was previously crammed into a 1,200-square-foot facility on the Rock Creek campus of Portland Community College. The new site at the Civic Center provides 10 times the amount of space — 12,300 square feet.

“We can have three or four exhibits now, while we only had room for one before,” said Karen Lange, deputy director of the museum.

On Nov. 17, 2012, the museum officially opened its first exhibits on the second floor of the expansive Civic Center.

According to Sam Shogren, the museum’s executive director, another big reason for moving was increased visibility.

“We wanted to make sure the museum is publicly accessible, and being on a MAX line is huge,” Shogren said.

In addition, “Part of the larger museum experience is tourism activity,” Shogren said. “If people stay at the museum long enough, eventually they are going to want a place to eat. That was a big challenge at Rock Creek, because none of that was available.”

“Here, we even have our own Starbucks (one floor below the museum),” joked David Leonnig, the museum’s director of community relations.

The new location is paying off. In the year prior to the move, the museum had about 850 visitors. That has increased nearly tenfold, to roughly 8,000 visitors this past year, said Shogren, who hopes to double that number in years to come.

Leonnig believes that level of traffic is possible, as museum representatives continue to spread the news about the museum’s new downtown location.

“Over and over we hear, ‘I didn’t know there was a museum here,’” said Leonnig. “That’s our continuing struggle.”

One new approach is to have more “museum after dark” activities that bring people to the museum for after-hours entertainment and history.

On Nov. 9, for example, the museum hosted a well-attended “Family Day” event to celebrate India. Students from the Anjali School of Dance, in traditional costumes, demonstrated classic dance from Hindu mythology.

“Having performances here is huge,” Leonnig said. “We need to bring more people in and continue to build interest. We have a great story to tell.”

Coming up on Dec. 5 will be a music, comedy and dance performance called “Get Your Gatsby On,” that will re-create a Speakeasy in celebration of the fact that Prohibition ended on Dec. 5, 1933.

Both Shogren and Leonnig are also enthusiastic about an upcoming new exhibit on technology and innovation in Washington County, scheduled to open in January.

“The Silicon Forest is responsible for a lot of employment here,” Shogren said. “How we do business here is different from anywhere else. The approaches we use are different. A lot of out-of-the-box thinking is happening here. What laid the seeds for all this innovative thinking? Why does this place foster creativity and innovation?”

“Our upcoming technology exhibit will be outstanding,” Leonnig said.

Shogren believes Washington County is a unique place, and it needs an adequate facility to tell the county’s story.

The museum has a 15-year lease with the city of Hillsboro, which owns the Civic Center, with two five-year options to extend the lease.

And it hasn’t abandoned the PCC campus site, where it has been since 1982. Its main archives and a research center will continue to operate there.

“We really want to be encompassing and be a big tent; to invite different cultures to share their story,” Shogren said. “This is the most diverse county in Oregon, and we need to know and learn about each other more.”

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