published Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Chattanooga history museum goes modern


by Cliff Hightower
Daryl Black, executive director at the Chattanooga History Center, speaks about unique ways the museum will offer visitors information when it opens in next year. He is sitting in his office that's located next to the Tennessee Aquarium.
Daryl Black, executive director at the Chattanooga History Center, speaks about unique ways the museum will offer visitors information when it opens in next year. He is sitting in his office that's located next to the Tennessee Aquarium.
Photo by Dan Henry.
CHATTANOOGA HISTORY CENTER

Chattanooga Regional History Museum began in 1978 to preserve local artifacts.

Original museum was in the former Missionary Ridge Elementary School, then moved to the corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets.

In 2000, the city donated adjacent building at 401 Broad St. for expansion.

In 2007, name changed to the Chattanooga History Center.

In 2008, museum properties sold; center moved to temporary location at 615 Lindsay St.

In June of 2011, history center offices moved to new space at 2 Broad Street on the Aquarium Plaza.

In 2013, new center expected to open.

Source: chattanoogahistory.org

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The scene is very clear to Daryl Black.

He sits at a desk that overlooks the Tennessee Aquarium plaza, and day in and day out watches tourists and schoolchildren milling around below him, hundreds of them. To him, they are potential customers when the new Chattanooga History Center opens early next year.

"It's right in the middle of the entertainment district," said Black, the museum's executive director.

The vision for the new Chattanooga History Center is not one of relics and artifacts with descriptions of particular eras of history. Instead, the new model will be about topics, storytelling and interactive media.

"We didn't want this to be your grandfather's museum," Black said. Visitors will see the difference through use of high and low technology, he said. They will use interactive touch screens and audio storytelling to spur conversation and learning about regional history. There also will be an option for visitors to interview and record stories about their own loved ones who live in Chattanooga.

Three main topics addressed in the center are the Cherokee Nation, the Civil War and blacks and segregation. But the stories highlighting those issues won't just be retreads of history looking at specific events and people, Black said.

"We're thinking through a new model on how we can do a history museum," he said.

The designers of the renovation see the center as a unique part of Chattanooga.

Rick Sobel, project director for New York City-based Ralph Applebaum Associates Inc., said the new center will be a "museum for the people."

The company designed the journalism-oriented Newseum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, both in Washington, D.C.

Overall, the world of museums is changing, he said.

"They are different animals now," Sobel said. "They're not a place for dirty, old artifacts."

Kim White, president of River City Co., the downtown development group, said she learned details about plans for the center a few months ago. The new approach fits in with the flair of downtown.

"To me it was a 'Wow!' factor," she said. "I don't think it will be your typical history center."

The $10.5 million museum is located in the old Chattanooga Visitor's Center on Market Street. It will have 24,000 square feet of space, with 10,000 square feet devoted to exhibits and 11,000 square feet devoted to teaching labs and community meeting space.

The center also will devote an area to Vision 2000, the community visioning process held in 1984 that mapped out dozens of projects and eventually led to such things as the opening of the Tennessee Aquarium and the 21st Century Waterfront.

Rick Montague, co-chairman of the History Center's funds campaign committee, said so far $7.75 million has been raised for the History Center.

"Every week we're having one-on-one meetings with potential donors," he said.

Black said the Chattanooga History Center wants to lay a foundation to help map Chattanooga's future with community input.

"We've tried to do three or four years of work in a year and a half," he said. "We've got to make sure we do this right."

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