Washington County Museum looks to the future
For the past five years, Washington County Museum curator Liza Schade's only co-workers were the historical photos which line the museum's walls.
That all changed in September, when the museum closed its main exhibition hall at the Hillsboro Civic Center and moved back to its longtime facility at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus, where Schade manages the museum's collection.
"It's funny to have all our staff all in one place again," Schade said. "I was totally alone here for years. People used to ask me if I was scared of ghosts."
The museum's exhibit hall has stood in downtown Hillsboro in 2012, but the museum pulled out of the space in September after its board decided to steer the organization in a different direction. The museum had struggled to bring people through the doors for years.
The museum closed its Hillsboro location Sept. 9 and re-opened at the Rock Creek campus a month later.
"It has been fun setting up this space again," Schade said. "It was empty for so many years. As a curator, this is so amazing. I can get to everything, and I don't have to worry about transporting equipment to the other site. There's a lot of really fragile stuff here."
The museum has an impressive collection of Washington County history, including more than 30,000 photographs, 15,000 antiques and 3,000 Native American arrowheads.
"And that's not to mention the thousands and thousands of documents we have that can never be counted," Schade said.
Schade, who worked as a volunteer with the museum when it moved to Hillsboro in 2012, got interested in the museum's work as a way to connect to her family history. A Washington County native, both her great-grandfathers worked as loggers in the area.
"I do this to honor the people that lived before us," Schade said. "They lived their entire lives and many were never documented. We'll never know they existed."
In the museum's lobby, an exhibit about logging in Washington County bleeds into a display of women's clothing from the 1900s.
"History is so relevant," Schade said. "We make history every single day. Yesterday is now history. There are so many stories to tell and no movie will ever do justice to the real stories that happened."
A path to relevance
Nathanael Andreini, the museum's director of education, said the museum finds itself at a crossroads: How does it make the county's history relevant to today's residents?
"We're at the intersection of contemporary and historical," he said. "We need to find a path to relevance for newcomers. That's our challenge."
Pamela Voracheck, the museum's executive director, said the museum was in a "re-imagining" phase, with plans to branch out more into the community.
"That's one of the reasons why we moved back to PCC," she said. "Instead of operating two facilities, we can have one, and that will allow us to spend more time out to Forest Grove, Banks, Tigard and other parts of the county."
This month, the museum is starting a series of talks across Washington County aimed at telling the stories of marginalized communities. At 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, the museum will hold a lecture at Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains, where owner Bertony Faustin will screen a documentary about minority-owned wineries in Oregon. The museum has partnered with the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem on an exhibit on Oregon's history and is working on a grant with the City of Tigard on a local history project.
"It's an amazing way to get the history out to people," Schade said. "We can get away from competing with one another and start working together."
The museum's collection of artifacts are stored in the museum's expansive archive, which takes up the majority of the building's footprint. Plans are in the works to open the archive to the public for tours later this year, Schade said.
But despite changes to how the museum interacts with the public, Voracheck said its mission remains the same.
"We're here for the people," she said. "Not just the people who came before us, but also the people who are here now. Our emphasis on exhibits is changing as we evolve and create our own history. We want to create that kind of engagement with the community. If we're not engaging with the community we really can't exist."
By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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