Gardner on Two Mississippi Museums
Cindy Gardner has been busy recently with the opening of the Two Mississippi Museums. Gardner, the museums’ administrator, is a graduate of Stetson University in Florida and has been with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for nearly 19 years. She and her husband John have one daughter, Hilary. Gardner recently spoke with Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about the museums, their recent openings and current attendance. The Two Mississippi Museums include the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Mississippi History Museum.
How are things going since the museums opened?
“Things are very busy. We’ve been having hundreds of visitors each day. It’s amazing how the public is coming to the museums.”
How many people have visited so far?
“We have issued about 20,000 to 25,000 tickets since opening day. That does not include opening weekend. The way I phrase (my answer) like that is because people buy dual tickets to go to both museums. It may be one person, but they’re attending both museums.”
Where have visitors come from?
“We’ve had people from across the country – California, up in the New England area, a lot of people from DC – not just Mississippians.”
How long do you expect to maintain current attendance rates?
“Hopefully always. Our anticipated visitation is 180,000 visitors a year – that will include people coming to programs, as well as just visiting the museums for tours or facility use events.”
What have been the most popular exhibits so far?
“It’s hard to say. A lot of people are coming to see the civil rights museum because it got so much publicity for its opening. When people go to the history museum, they are pleasantly surprised the way we are telling the story, and how we encompassed 15,000 years of history into such a small space. Both museums are getting good comments. We welcome any comments, good or bad, but mainly we’re hearing great compliments on the museums.”
What is your favorite exhibit?
“That’s really hard to say. I was the project manager from the beginning for both museums. My favorite things are the artifacts, the variety of artifacts we have and how important they are to understanding Mississippi history.”
What is the oldest item in the museum’s collection?
“The oldest are some steatite vessels, which are 5,000 years old. They’re beautiful vessels that were used by Native Americans. One of our most popular (exhibits) in the history museum, we have a 500-year-old canoe that is 26 feet long. It’s the first thing you see when you come out of the introductory theater. We have everything from that to a stuffed Kermit the Frog. He is part of Mississippi history (too).”
You mention that people are pleasantly surprised with how you’re able to tell the Mississippi story in the space that’s used. How big are the museums exactly?
“The whole facility is 200,000 square feet. We have two floors of collection storage area and an exhibit workshop area, where we can build and fabricate exhibits on site. We have two floors that are open to the public and two that are behind the scenes.”
How much space is set aside for exhibits themselves?
“We have over 55,000 square feet for exhibit space; 8,000 of that is temporary exhibit space, to house exhibits we’ll be changing out. We have a quilt exhibit up there now. That will be up for about a year, and we will change (it) out in October.”
Tell me about the quilts.
“They’re (part of an exhibit called) ‘Stories Unfolded’ They’re 40 quilts from the MDAH collection that date from slavery all the way to modern day, present-day quilters.”
Why was that exhibit chosen as the first temporary exhibit?
“Both museums highlight the individual stories that make up the state’s history and try to tell that history in a different way, rather than memorizing a bunch of dates. With the quilt exhibit, we have the same theme. We talk about quilters, tell as much as we know about them, or tell a little anecdote about them.”
Why did the museums choose to go with the more personal approach when telling stories?
“It’s a different way to tell the story of Mississippi’s history. We wanted to make sure we told as many sides of history as we could. And, working with the exhibit designers, thinking about the history museum, we decided it was the best way to do it – tell the personal connection and personal story.
The same is for the civil rights museum. We highlight the African-American story and their fight for civil rights … but we wanted to make sure other stories came through as well. There were a lot of groups that came together to (bring about) change.
Have there been any hiccups since the museums’ opening?
“We’ve had small hiccups, I would say – the staff getting familiar with the point-of-sale system. We had some AV (audio-visual) components not working like we anticipated. Small things, nothing major.”
With the openings of both museums being a success, what’s next?
“The staff will start developing programming for school children and adults, and developing tours they’ll give to children coming in (when) school groups start coming in. School groups actually start (this month). Every day we’ll have children in here. We want to know the best way to teach them and what they need to know in the hour to two hours they’ll have in the museum space.”
How many staffers do you have so far?
“We have 23; everybody is full-time.”
If someone is visiting the museum, how much time do they need to get the full experience?
“A couple of weeks. You can come do a very quick overview of both museums within an hour, walking through and watching a couple minutes of AV here or there. In the Museum of Mississippi History, we have a fast-track made for that purpose. You can walk through and still get a great (overview) of the history of the state.”