Advisory panel begins imagining stories, visitor experience of future Coast Guard Museum

New London — An advisory panel has begun preliminary discussions into the stories that should be told and the experience it wants visitors to have at the planned National Coast Guard Museum.

The museum, an estimated $100 million project, is expected to open in 2020.

"We're really starting from a blank canvas," retired Coast Guard captain Jonathan Nickerson said.

The National Coast Guard Museum Association, which is leading the museum fundraising events, has hired Nickerson, an independent consultant with the New London-based AIM Consulting Associates, as a part-time employee to lead the panel, set up to assist the museum association in figuring out display aspects of the museum.

The 30-member Museum Exhibit Advisory Panel is in the "idea generation phase," Nickerson said by phone Monday while on the train back from Washington, D.C.

Twenty-five of the 30 members met in D.C. this past weekend with representatives from Gallagher & Associates, employed to create the interior exhibits for the museum. The panel features representatives from a number of nonprofits such as the U.S. Lighthouse Society, the USCG Women's Leadership Initiative, and the Coast Guard Aviation Association, and active Coast Guard historians, curators and exhibit collectors.

While Gallagher & Associates are considered experts in museum design, the firm is not an expert on the Coast Guard, Nickerson said, explaining that Gallagher is looking for the panel's input into "exhibitory" for the museum.

While some historical moments may seem like obvious display choices, such as the 1952 daring Coast Guard rescue chronicled in the recently released Disney movie "The Finest Hours," the panel is also looking to identify stories that aren't as well known.

The story of the Coast Guard spans 225 years, and throughout that time many cultural and organizational changes have taken place, and the panel wants the museum to reflect that, Nickerson said. The Coast Guard has had a lot firsts, according to Nickerson, who said one suggestion is to highlight some of those firsts, like the first women who were commanding officers of Coast Guard cutters.

Over the weekend, representatives from Gallagher gave the panel an overview of the design work done so far and outlined current museum trends such as technology — both audio and video — and social media to help tell a story. But the public still has a desire to see more traditional displays such as artifacts and paintings, Gallagher representatives told the panel. The panel toured The National Archives and White House Visitor Center, both clients of Gallagher, to understand "what architects look for when incorporating exhibits into their designs," Nickerson said.

The Coast Guard is in the process of getting "a good inventory" of artifacts, not only those located in a large warehouse in D.C., but also in current museums around the country, and at various Coast Guard units and stations, Nickerson said. Private citizens who are interested in donating items must work through the Coast Guard Historian's Office to do so.

Over the next four months, the panel will work with Gallagher to identify the "vast array of stories that are out there," Nickerson said. Individual panel members will explore museums near them — what they experienced, what they liked — and report back to the panel. The panel and representatives from Gallagher expect to reconvene in June to more fully lay out their concepts and ideas.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman

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