The Tongass Historical Museum. (KRBD file photo)

The City of Ketchikan is again without a Museums Department director. After about three months on the job, Lee Gray resigned last week, effective immediately.

Anita Maxwell, the department’s Senior Curator of Programs, is back as the interim director. She said that, despite the personnel setback, the Museum Department’s renovation project at the Centennial Building is progressing and remains on track for an official opening reception on April 28.

While a permanent exhibit is still a ways away, that reception will celebrate the renovation and the opening of a new temporary exhibit.

“Our very first exhibition in that space is going to be ‘Upholding Balance.” This is really going to be an extraordinary exhibition about Northwest Coast design and how Ketchikan has influenced that evolution over time — looking at modern Northwest Coast design from 1900 to present day,” she said.

Maxwell said the exhibit will include older pieces from the museum’s collection and modern pieces chosen for the show by the artists themselves.

She said the show will be about more than just the artwork.

“Really telling that story of how Native art and Native culture was repressed, but always there under the surface,” she said.

Maxwell said the show also will highlight the contribution of the city’s Totem Heritage Center, which has provided classes on Northwest Coast art and culture, taught by Alaska Native artists, for the past four decades. The center also preserves and displays historic pieces of Northwest Coast art.

Maxwell said Upholding Balance will be on display through March of 2018, which is much longer than most temporary exhibits at the Tongass Historical Museum.

“We really just need to buy ourselves a little breathing room because we really want the permanent exhibition to be extraordinary,” she said. 

Museum staff members have been talking with the community, including public meetings and individual interviews, to help plan that permanent exhibit, which is due to open next spring.

“Now it’s the fun part of moving back in and turning that blank canvas really into something that Ketchikan is proud of, and that when people come in they’re like, ‘Yeah, I see myself in this. I see my history. I see my future in this exhibition space,’” she said. “So, we’re really excited about it.”

Maxwell said the search for a new Museums Department director will restart sometime after the Centennial Building’s renovation work is complete.