By Susan Evans McClure, Executive Director
Last June, I shared some of my thoughts on how Lake Champlain Maritime Museum could bring our skills as historians to bear to make systemic change, both at the Museum and in our communities. But writing one blog post is not enough. As we embark on safely re-opening the Museum in 2021, I am reflecting on our commitments to this work. What have we done and how are we looking forward?
Removing Barriers to Access: Today we announced our 2021 season and several new initiatives to increase public access to history, the lake, and the Museum. Key among them: we have eliminated all admission fees, making it free for everyone to visit. This step follows our other recent shift to make all summer camps and expeditions pay-what-you-can for all families. Nothing should stand in the way of our community connecting with their history, archaeology, and ecology. Access to hands-on learning experiences on Lake Champlain is for everyone.
Focusing on Untold Stories: To connect with history, people need to see themselves in the past. Over the past year, the Museum undertook two key research projects that shined a light on stories of women and women of color that are frequently left out of our local history. Our work as a community history museum is to dig deeper and find the untold stories that make up the fabric of our community.
- Women at the Helm: We launched a new digital exhibit in 2020 celebrating women leaders of the Champlain Valley from the 18th century to the present. These women are ferry captains, scientists, and community leaders who inspire all of us to do great things in our region.
- Suffrage in the Champlain Valley: We partnered with Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership to produce a traveling exhibit and blog series on the complicated legacy of the movement for women’s suffrage in the Champlain Valley. Women’s suffrage is not a story of linear progress that ended when women received the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. It is a cycle of progress and pitfalls that continues to this day. Telling the whole story behind what is often held up as a celebratory moment helps us to remember that all of history is complicated, and we all still have important work to do.
Fiscal Sponsorship: There can be many systemic hurdles to getting and maintaining 501C3 nonprofit status for BIPOC-led organizations. We have worked this year to act as a fiscal sponsor for organizations that are run by people of color and serve our community, but don’t have 501C3 nonprofit status. In a fiscal sponsorship agreement, the nonprofit holder makes their 501C3 status available to another organization to support their work and accepts funds on their behalf. If you know of a nonprofit run by people of color and serving communities in our region, please contact us and see if we can work together to help our community.
The work of building a just society is never finished: While we are proud of the small steps we have taken this year, we know that there is more to do and we are looking forward to making this practice an ongoing part of our work in 2021 and beyond. In 2021, the Museum will focus on:
- Bringing an equity lens to our Board of Directors: The Museum’s board is working to diversify its membership and create a sustainable structure that will support the organization for the future. This will take the form of board trainings, readings, and discussions, as well as more efforts to formalize board recruitment procedures and develop charters for our board committees.
- Staff supports and pay structure: The Museum staff has identified staff compensation and support as key to their long-term success. It is important for the Museum to develop a transparent, equitable pay structure that supports the growth of individual staff members, retains staff with valuable institutional knowledge, and attracts a talented and diverse pool of new staff to the Museum.
- New research projects: The Museum will continue to shine a light on the untold stories of women and people of color in the Champlain Valley. As we have for several years, we will partner with the Abenaki community this year to provide a space for the Abenaki people to share their stories and their history. In 2021, our Arnold’s Bay research project is partnering with Indigenous communities from Vermont and New York to ensure that native voices are a part of our archaeological research. And our research into Prohibition on Lake Champlain will highlight stories of women and people of color impacted by state and federal legislation around temperance and prohibition.
Looking at our work through a lens of equity and justice is a continual process in which we are always learning. I am looking forward to the work we will do in 2021 and the years to come. And we want to hear your thoughts! Please let us know how you think Lake Champlain Maritime Museum can better serve our community and what you want to see in 2021.
Thank you for sharing Lake Champlain with us and for being part of this community.