City museum triples off-season attendance

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2002

Between late September 2001 and early May, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum saw a 306 percent increase in visitors over past years for the same period.

Museum staff attributes the increase to $80,000 in passenger fees allocated to the museum by the Juneau Assembly in fiscal year 2002 and a donation from resident Harold Fossum. The combination enabled the city-owned museum to nearly double its staff and extend its winter hours.

According to museum curator Mary Pat Wyatt, passenger fees ensured the museum's operation most of last summer. Fossum's donation allowed the museum to extend its winter hours from two to five afternoons per week, with free admission.

Wyatt said 4,398 people visited the museum between September and May, a large boost from its three-year average of 1,436 for the period. The museum's increased accessibility and staffing also allowed it to collaborate with community organizations more often.

The museum held a "Wearable Art" exhibit with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, a "Landmarks of Light" lighthouse exhibition with six lighthouse preservation organizations, a Women's History Month lecture and several other events that would have been impossible without the extra hours and staff, she said.

"We were attractive to the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council for having an exhibit of wearable art because we were open five days a week," said Wyatt. "If we were open less, they wouldn't necessarily be interested."

Passenger fees also funded this year's hire of Ellen Carrlee, curator of collections and exhibits. She has researched, designed and installed an exhibit titled "Angling Artifacts: The Gear of Yesteryear," featuring sport fishing gear from the Parke, Simmons, Fossum and Snow collections.

"We also have an almost-complete collection of salmon derby pins," said Wyatt. "We have them all except 1952 and 1954."

Carrlee also worked with volunteers Rebecca Smith and Damon Stuebner to research and install an exhibit called "Peculiar, But Historical," which features oddities from the museum's collections and the Alaska State Museum.

"Sometimes they're hard to display because they're kind of peculiar, like a rubber urinal from an airplane," said Wyatt. "How many chances do you have to show that?"

The museum received more than 200 donated items this calendar year, and with the added personnel, more can be accepted.

"Most of the exhibit changes and upgrades and the fact we are able to accept as many donations as we had are because of passenger-fee funds," said Wyatt. "We would not have the staff to do it otherwise."

Admission for the summer is $3 for adults and free for children. A $10 annual pass that admits two people per visit is available, and as of Sept. 25, Fossum's donations will kick in, making admission free once again.

Emily Wescott can be reached at

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