Puyallup School District’s Karshner Museum, a field trip destination for generations of students, will remain closed this year while the space in downtown Puyallup is transformed into the Karshner Center for Culture and the Arts.
The district plans to reopen the refurbished Karshner Center by the fall of 2014.
District spokesman Brian Fox said the museum was largely closed last school year except for some student visits mainly in the spring. He said the museum is completely closed for the 2013-14 school year. Museum artifacts are being kept in storage.
The closure will allow crews to remodel the building. It also will give teachers a chance to review artifacts and exhibits to more closely align them with the district’s new social studies curriculum, he said. The district wants to incorporate more hands-on and arts activities for kids, as well as teacher training opportunities.
An advisory committee on Karshner’s future is scheduled to hold its first meeting Sept. 25.
Fox said the district does not yet have an estimate of what the remodeling and other changes will cost. He said officials plan a walk-through, possibly next week, to get an idea of remodeling needs. And architects likely won’t get a chance to estimate costs until next month.
Fox calls the planned makeover of the Karshner Museum a “repurposing.”
“It is not going away,” he said.
Some critics, however, worry that the change in direction will result in a watered-down version of what the Karshner legacy has represented for Puyallup schools since the museum opened in the 1930s.
They also fear that many of the estimated 10,000 artifacts given to the district by Dr. Warner Karshner and his wife, Ella, will be boxed up and forgotten — contrary to the Warners’ intent when they donated their collection gathered from their world travels.
Some in the community are also concerned about the Karshner “teaching trunks,” which have served as traveling exhibits filled with objects, documents and hands-on activities that teachers could use in their classrooms.
The trunks won’t be available this year, Fox said, because their contents also are being realigned to match new curriculum. Other exhibit materials are stored in the building, which has been re-keyed to ensure security.
A Seattle-based company, ESA Paragon, is working with the district to ensure items are managed in compliance with federal law governing oversight of culturally significant Native American artifacts.
A letter to the school board sent earlier this year from the Friends of the Karshner Museum complained about the district’s lack of communications to the Friends group and others. It urged the district not to spend time and money re-thinking exhibits and other museum projects “that are already successful and in place.”
The museum’s planned transformation into a cultural and arts center also prompted the layoff of its director, Beth Bestrom. She had worked for Karshner for 15 years before being told in May that her job was being eliminated.
“They told me they weren’t going to have someone there all the time,” Bestrom said. “I have been there so long, and I have seen how kids react to the place. I know how much they learned from it.”
Bestrom said she’s gradually coming to terms with the changes planned at Karshner, but she worries the museum could lose some of its unique characteristics.
“It sounds like it’s going to be a good thing. It really does,” said Bestrom, who is also part of the Friends group. “But it won’t be a museum any more. And to me, being a museum person, that makes me sad.”
Fox said the efforts to transform Karshner, which is housed in an old school building, began several years ago. That’s when the school district began looking at how teachers used the museum.
Some of the most memorable features over the years include a replica old-fashioned schoolhouse and pioneer fort, a Native American longhouse, a stuffed elephant’s foot, famous for its peculiar aroma, and objects ranging from stuffed birds to Dr. Karshner’s stethoscope.
Last spring, the district signed an agreement with the Samish Indian Nation, based in Anacortes. In it, the district agreed to return 37 Karshner artifacts that had cultural significance for the Samish people, including baskets, weaving shuttles, rain hats and more.
In exchange, the tribe agreed to provide the museum with contemporary objects created by current tribal members, including drums, decorative canoe paddles, cedar hats and a mural to be painted at the museum. In addition, the tribe agreed to provide samples of cedar, showing the stages of processing used by Native people to create many items used in daily life, as well as a series of DVDs about songs, legends and other aspects of tribal life.
Those items should mesh well with Karshner’s new themes, which will include a representation of Western Washington’s Coast Salish tribal culture.
Fox, who is also Puyallup’s director of arts education, said the district wants to represent the culture accurately. The goal is to use Karshner resources to “teach culture through the arts,” he said.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com @DebbieCafazzo