Ketchikan’s new museum director, Dr. Lee Gray, arrived in the First City recently, and started work Monday.
Gray is originally from Minnesota and most recently worked as the assistant director of exhibitions and outreach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her background is in art, design and art history. Gray has lived and worked in the Eastern, Midwest and Southern United States, Europe and Mexico. She also has traveled extensively. Gray feels she brings a global view to the job.
“We are a global community. While I think it’s important to maintain our own inner sense of self, we have to also look at the perspective of what that is to the bigger community.”
Gray has been to Ketchikan before. She says several years ago she took a trip through the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway, and one of the stops was Ketchikan. She says several things attracted her to the First City.
“Because I grew up in Minnesota, I was used to seeing water everywhere, and when I moved away, that was the one thing that I kept missing. So I wanted to be in a community that was water-based, or that had some connection to water, that I could see water. That was part of it. I have never lived on the ocean. I’ve never lived on an island. I’m interested in living an interesting life. And around interesting people and learning about different cultures.”
Gray says she looks forward to learning more about Native arts and culture. She says finding out Ketchikan is a great arts community was exciting.
“That brings with it all kinds of new energy and a philosophy and a mindset. I think about life that intrigues me.”
Gray has been on the job for only a few days, so she hasn’t formed an image of the museum itself, in part because the Tongass Historical Museum is under renovation. But she says she’s impressed with the dedication, commitment and energy of museum staff.
“And I find them to be incredible professionals. They work really hard. They’ve done amazing things. I feel like I’ve come in at a really good time because they’ve done a lot of the really hard work, and I get to benefit from that.”
Gray says she also sees exceptional opportunities for the new museum, and looks forward to hearing what the community wants.
“A history museum is really about the identity of a place. So that’s what I want to hear. I want to learn, what is the identity? How do people see themselves? How do you want to see yourselves? What is it that we want to do? That’s wide open. I think we can look at this with wide eyes open and just say, ‘Yeah. Let’s dream big. Let’s see what we can do.’”
Gray says she hopes many people will provide input on what they want from their museum.
The museum department has scheduled two public meetings regarding the permanent exhibit at the Tongass Historical Museum. Those are scheduled for January 25th from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and January 28th from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Both are at the Ketchikan Public Library.