For the past 18 years, Jane Lindsey has tried to answer a key question for the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.
“How do you tell a pretty incredible, diverse story about Juneau history in such a small space?”
The answers to that question have ranged from renovating the building to using online resources to trying to create a “museum without walls.” Lindsey, who has worked at the downtown museum since 2000 and has been the full-time director of it since 2005, announced her retirement earlier this week.
Lindsey, 58, said she’s been thinking about moving on for the past two years and will leave her post at the end of April. Originally from Los Angeles, Lindsey moved to Hoonah in 1988 before coming to Juneau to work with Perseverance Theatre in 1995. In 2000, she began working with the City Museum’s education and public programming.
When Mary Pat Wyatt retired from the curator post in 2004, Lindsey stepped in as interim director and realized that it was exactly what she wanted to do. She went to seminars and got more training in how to run a museum and took over full time in 2005.
The museum is across the street from the State Capitol, in the Veterans Memorial Building that was built in 1951. The building originally housed the Juneau Memorial Library until the library outgrew the building in the mid-1980s and the museum moved in.
“That’s always been the challenge, a building never meant to be a museum,” Lindsey said, “but coming into it I decided, take care of the building, make the building better, care about it, because it’s so important.”
Improving the ventilation system helped, but the small space still made it difficult for more than a few exhibits to go on at once. Over the years, Lindsey has helped spearhead attempts to create a “museum without walls,” basically bringing the city’s history to the people instead of the other way around.
That took many forms, including digitizing articles and research from Juneau historians Bob DeArmond and Betty Miller and lending artifacts to the libraries to display them after exhibits are finished at the museum.
“We figure, if people can’t come to the museum,” Lindsey said, “we care enough about our history to try and put it out there as much as possible.”
Community relations have been key in making the museum what it is, Lindsey said. Over the years, she has talked extensively with local elders and historical experts for advice about the museum.
This past summer, members of the community showed how important the museum was to them. When the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee considered cutting funding for the museum, dozens of community members flooded City Hall to explain just how valuable the museum was to them and the community. By an 8-1 vote, the Finance Committee decided to not make cuts to the museum.
Over the years, the museum has attracted both history and art fans and Lindsey said she’ll miss going out and finding new exhibits and artwork to add to the collection and further tell Juneau’s story. She said the search has begun to find a new director, and that this is an exciting time for a new person to come on board.
There are numerous challenges that come with the job, but the task of “facilitating the community’s story,” as Lindsey put it, is worth the effort.
“You’re always limited by your staff size and your abilities and whatnot, but we try,” Lindsey said. “You never stop trying.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.