History and art have a new name in Gulfport: Gulfport Arts & Heritage.
“The Gulfport Historical Society, to better reflect its mission, that it ‘preserves and celebrates Gulfport culture and history through exhibits and programs that educate and inspire the community and visiting public’ will operate under the DBA Gulfport Arts & Heritage,” Cathy Salustri Loper, board member and current president, explained. “Because it’s a DBA, we’ll still retain our 501(c)(3) status, but it better reflects what we’re about.” (Disclosure: Salustri Loper owns The Gabber Newspaper.)
And that’s not all. Towards the end of this past summer, City Manger Jim O’Reilly met with Library Director Dave Mather to discuss the future of the Gulfport History Museum and Gulfport Arts Center.
“I think he came to me because library upkeep and archiving goes hand in hand,” said Mather. “I have a masters in library sciences and American history, so I think I have a good background for this.”
These plans will update key components of the museum, as well as enhance the visitor experience. This project came about through a partnership between the Gulfport Historical Society and City of Gulfport; Gulfport City Council offered support to the museum and arts center — both run by the Gulfport Historical Society — based on need. The GHS board voted to allow the council to take over certain aspects of the museum’s operations — and certain aspects of the Gulfport Arts Center.
Major Museum Updates
The main aspect of this project involves hiring a full-time museum curator, along with two part-time staff members. With the new budget active Oct. 1, the search started for these positions. These positions will double duty: Staffing the buildings and digitizing the records in the museum.
Roughly $30,000 of the budget will go toward digitizing the historical records in the museum. They will then go on the GHS website for public access. After the hiring process, Mather hopes that the museum can host more programs and events to bring the community together, and teach about the city’s history.
“With grants from the [Florida] Humanities Council, we could bring in quarterly rotating exhibits and shows,” said Mather. “We want to expand beyond just Gulfport history and teach about Florida history as well.”
Art Center Upgrades
The City of Gulfport will also staff the Gulfport Arts Center, across Chase Park from the Gulfport History Museum.
Marissa Dix, a board member with GHS, is working with Mather and the City to make this upgrade possible. Dix discussed her interest in community feedback on what is to happen with the building.
“We wanted to hear what the community had to say, and we got really great feedback,” said Dix. “We are going to put together classes, exhibits, and book signings to bring the community in.”
GAC currently has a beginner acrylics seminar in November and a children’s art show in December. Looking into the future, Dix hopes for an art-based summer camp program in 2024.
“When people spoke at the city council meeting about what is to happen with the Art Center, I was confused,” said Dix. “Our vision is aligned with the community. We want accessible art and classes as well. The art center is built on the spirit of collaboration.”
GHS has held three public meetings — the last in tandem with the City of Gulfport — to solicit public input.
As Mather spearheads the project, GHS board members work with him to create these plans. Amanda Hagood, a board member, professor at Eckerd College, and arts and outdoors writer for this publication, spoke with The Gabber Newspaper about her involvement.
“We came together and decided it was time to staff the museum. We’ve needed this since COVID started,” said Hagood.
With both the museum and arts center — the latter with several different organizations at the helm — lack of volunteers to maintain open hours for both goes back 40 and 20 years, respectively, according to records and interviews with past leaders.
Hagood is optimistic about the partnership with the City. The City will operate much as it does with the Friends of the Library, with support for GHS through staff and funds. In turn, GHS will raise money to support programming.
“There are a lot of models for how local museums are run with the local government, but we really like the way the library runs,” said Hagood. “They are on the ground, figuring out what the community needs. We want to do that, but with the super structure of the city council for staffing and logistics.”
With this partnership, Hagood believes each entity involved can stick to their strengths. The focus of GHS can shift from staffing events and programs to offering more of them.
“If you look at the history of this historical society, you’ll see that it was started in the 1980s by a group of women and men who were committed to history and making records accessible,” said Hagood. “We’re more of a fundraising group now, which helps us grow, but this allows us to place guardianship of these resources to the City.”
Lastly, Both Mather and Hagood have the same outlook for the future, with Hagood stating:
“Overall, this is going to create a much better experience for the people of Gulfport.”