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.

On Nov. 17, 2012, the museum officially opened its first exhibits on the second floor of the expansive Civic Center, and is gearing up for a new series of historical displays.

“It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year,” said Beth Dehn, the museum’s curator of education and HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Sam Shogren (left) and David Leonnig have seen a big jump in the number of visitors now that the Washington County Museum has moved to the Hillsboro Civic Center.

Before making the move downtown, the museum had been 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 12,300 square feet of space.

“It made the museum so much bigger and better. We have exhibit space now,” said Karen Lange, deputy director of the museum. “We can have three or four exhibits now, while we only had room for one before.”

According to Sam Shogren, the museum’s executive

director, there were two main reasons for making the move from Rock Creek to the Civic Center.

“We have increased visibility here, and increased space,” Shogren said. “We wanted to make sure the museum is publicly accessible, and being on a MAX line is huge. Rock Creek was built to the needs of the time, but we are looking at what our needs are today and going into the future.”

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.

Despite moving most of its operations downtown, however, the museum is not abandoning the PCC campus site, where it has been since 1982. The museum’s main archives and a research center will continue to operate there.

Shogren said he believes it’s important for the museum to have a downtown location.

“Part of the larger museum experience is tourism activity,” he 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,” joked David Leonnig, the museum’s director of community relations, who pointed out that a Starbucks coffee shop is located directly below the main offices of the museum.

The new location is paying off. Shogren pointed out that the museum had about 850 visitors in the year prior to moving to the Civic Center’s location on Main Street. Since the move, traffic has increased essentially tenfold, to roughly 8,000 people in the past year. Shogren said the museum 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,’” explained Leonnig. “That’s a problem we continue to run into. 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 exhibition on technology and innovation in Washington County, scheduled to open in January.

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

“The Silicon Forest is responsible for a lot of employment here,” Shogren added. “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? We need to capture that and include it in our exhibit.”

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

“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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