Formerly known as the Homer Society of Natural History, the Pratt Museum, collects, preserves, and interprets the natural and human history of Kachemak Bay. Since 1967, NEH funding has helped the Pratt Museum develop robust exhibition spaces and offer well-researched, up-to-date exhibitions to locals and visitors. In the midst of COVID-19, the NEH continued its support of the museum through a major grant to help it weather the pandemic’s economic fallout.
In early years, NEH funding supported conferences, youth programs, and a documentary on pioneer life. Starting in 1984, the Pratt Museum began to leverage NEH funding to expand the museum’s footprint. A $200,000 challenge grant, which helped the museum raise another $600,000, supported the construction of a major addition during the 1990s, including exhibition and storage space and an accessible entryway to the building. In the early 2000s, more NEH funding helped the museum develop Kachemak Bay, Alaska: An Exploration of People and Place, the museum’s main exhibition, which was on display for more than 15 years.
More recently, a $750,000 challenge grant helped the museum raise an additional $2.25 million to renovate the museum, making it a vibrant community hub. Additional NEH grants helped the museum redesign its permanent exhibition, which showcases the lived experience of those who inhabit Kachemak Bay through artifacts, films, photo essays, and interactives. In order to undertake this renovation, the Pratt Museum had to close for several years. As a result, the recently reopened museum was particularly vulnerable when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020—it had gone years without ticket sales, and was in danger of losing its connections with the local community. An NEH CARES grant helped the museum retain several of its staff members. Of equal importance, the funding helped the museum engage with the local community in new ways, maintaining its ability to serve its audience. The Pratt created a “Walking Museum” series featuring outdoor tours and an online conversation series called “Windowsill Stories.” A 12-part radio series helped the museum tell stories around objects from its collection, as well as featured stories from community members about their own collections. According to the Pratt Museum’s executive director, Jennifer Gibbins, this work has been “transformative, enabling the museum to leap years forward in terms of digital engagement with its audience.”