The Vashon Heritage Museum received the John D. Spellman Award for exemplary achievement in Interpretation for highlighting and celebrating the histories of Vashon-Maury Island’s diverse communities at a recent ceremony presided over by King County Executive, Dow Constantine, and the King County Office of Historic Preservation.
The award recognized the museum’s priority to amplify the stories of under-represented groups within the larger fabric of the community, starting with a 2014 exhibit developed with the Puyallup Tribe, and specifically recognized two exhibits, one focused on the Japanese- American experience titled “Joy and Heartache” Vashon’s Japanese-American Legacy, and the Museum’s current exhibit, “In and Out: Being LGBTQ on Vashon Island”.
Heritage Museum Board of Director’s President, Brian Brenno, emphasized, “the exhibits cited for the award, were conceived, curated, fundraised and constructed by community groups in coordination with the museum. The museum’s partnership with groups committed to telling the story of their heritage brought regional exposure to the museum and strengthened our bond with the Vashon community.”
The exhibit “Joy and Heartache” Vashon’s Japanese-American Legacy was assembled in partnership with the Friends of Mukai, the Vashon Japanese-American Research Project, and the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust.
“The impact of the “Joy and Heartache” exhibit has been huge. It is helping create a new awareness of the important role Japanese Americans have played in Vashon’s agricultural history. Now that much of the exhibit has been moved to the Mukai Farm and Garden it continues to educate and inspire all who are interested in the 100-year presence of our community on Vashon” said Rita Brogan, Friends of Mukai Board Member.
County Executive Constantine commented on the second exhibit, “The 2000 census showed that Vashon Island has the state’s largest per capita concentration of LGBTQ people, yet association (Heritage Museum) members saw a lack of representation within the historical narrative.”
This was addressed through the museum’s current exhibit – running through March 2020: “In and Out: Being LGBTQ on Vashon Island.” Since opening in June, it has been a great success, in terms of both community engagement and fundraising. Six hundred and fifty visitors attended the opening, the largest first night crowd in the museum’s history. Symbolically accessed through a closet passage, the exhibit leads visitors through a timeline of events and individual stories. It extends beyond the museum walls, into an outdoor AIDS garden and ultimately into the larger community through a Queer Film Series hosted by the Vashon Senior Center and the Vashon Theater.
Ellen Kritzman and Stephen Silha, curators for the In and Out exhibit commented, “There is not a formally or informally organized LGBTQ+ community on Vashon, the community is more a spread of disparate individuals who, while they may know each other, have never witnessed themselves represented publicly as an identified community. This exhibit represents and tells the story of the LGBTQ+ community on Vashon-Maury Island.”
“The Vashon Heritage Museum is where history lives on Vashon, commented Bruce Haulman, Heritage Board Member and Vashon Historian. “That history cannot be adequately told without including the stories of all of the people of Vashon. For too long the stories of women, people of color, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ islanders, and other marginalized groups have been left out of our island’s history. The Heritage Museum is committed to telling all of the stories that come together to form the living history of this magical island.”
“We applaud the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association for sharing stories and perspectives that needed telling, and for raising the voices of our neighbors, friends and fellow community members.” concluded Executive Constantine.
Recipients for the 2019 awards were recognized in the categories of Interpretation, Restoration, Legacy Business, and Heritage Promotion.