The Rock Island Arsenal Museum is going to get better, offering what people expect nowadays, including lively programming, a gift shop, and — in time — renovated displays that will include computer-based interaction rather than static text.
That’s the take-away message from Patrick Allie, 30, who began last month as director of the 113-year-old museum. Allie comes from St. Louis, where he was the military and arms curator for the Missouri Historical Society. His father also was a lifelong museum curator, and Allie grew up steeped in history.
As the museum’s sole employee, Allie has lots of duties, among them staffing the front desk. This allows him to do audience research.
“That’s part of my job, knowing why people are coming in,” Allie said, sitting on a chair next to the desk last week. “It’s been incredible to see the connection people have with this museum.
“Some folks come in here with no idea what’s here, while others buzz right past the desk and go to the weapons. They’ll say, ‘I remember when I carried that,’ or ‘I remember when I used that.’ ”
And it is those stories, those connections, that Allie hopes to emphasize in designing exhibits.
“You should be able to look at an exhibit and see yourself there,” he said.
Other goals for the next year, he said, include reopening the gift shop, updating the museum website so that it can be more easily accessed by smartphones, and developing programs that would be held at the museum as well as taken on the road to schools.
The latter process will begin with visiting the curriculum directors at all area school districts to see what programs might be the best fit.
rumors of closure
Allie arrives at a time when the museum is transferring from being under the command of the garrison to being one of dozens of museums around the country under the command of the Center of Military History, with headquarters in Washington, D.C.
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This consolidation began in early 2016 with the shipment of more than 500 weapons from storage at the arsenal museum to an Army museum support center in Anniston, Ala. The move, coupled with a reduction in visiting hours, spurred rumors the museum would close.
Community leaders and area museum directors rallied around the cause of keeping the museum open, and eventually that is the decision that was made.
However, the Army’s directive that “if it’s not on display, it’s being consolidated to Anniston” still stands, Allie said.
The idea is that all across the country, museum staff was spending a lot of time caring for items in storage. By eliminating the storage, staff has time to offer programs and outreach, he said.
In addition to the about 2,000 items that already have left the arsenal museum, 8,000 more are scheduled to go, museum officials have said.
The Museum Resource Center’s paper archives, including such things as photographs or drawings of equipment, will remain, however.
Short- and long-term goals for museum
Boosting attendance is another Allie goal; in the past couple of years, the average number of visitors has fallen to 7,000 to 8,000 per year, he said. This is down significantly from 2011, when attendance was 23,205, according to museum officials at the time.
Part of the problem is the difficulty — or perceived difficulty — of getting onto the island, and changing this attitude is another Allie goal.
“I’m going to push that,” he said.
Hours will remain noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
While Allie is the museum’s only employee, he gets help staffing the desk from employees of the Army Sustainment Command and from uniformed servicemen, and he expects that another full-time employee will be added in the future.
Also in the future is a “complete renovation” of the static displays, he said.
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While museums typically hire consultants for this work, the Center of Military History has an in-house design team that will do that, he said.
Asked what artifacts have particularly impressed him, he immediately pointed to an add-on armor kit for Humvees and other vehicles, standing just past the front desk.
As deadly roadside bombs took their toll on soldiers in the war on terror, the arsenal was ordered to produce kits that would protect the vehicles and the people inside. Thousands of these kits were fielded to support troops in the battlefield, meaning the Arsenal played a role in saving lives.
“There’s a lot of great stories in this space,” Allie said.
Allie replaces Kris Leinicke, who retired in December after 19 years as museum director.