Public input sought on museum changes

Public input sought on museum changes
The Florida Maritime Museum served as a one-room schoolhouse for the fishing families of the village of Cortez. - Cindy Lane | Sun

CORTEZ – The Florida Maritime Museum is planning a redesign and is inviting public comment on its conceptual plan daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Saturday, Dec. 14, with a tour offered on Saturday at 10 a.m.

The plan was designed by The Creative Pool, an exhibit design firm that has worked in Tarpon Springs, another maritime community, Florida Maritime Museum Supervisor Kristin Sweeting said.

The Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum, the non-profit which supports the museum, hired the company to produce the plan, which includes new exhibits on Florida’s working waterfront communities using Cortez “as a lens to tell those stories,” she said. “The goal is to add content but not take away Cortez.”

Visitors to the museum at 4415 119th St. W. will notice that some changes already have been made, including the removal of the children’s play area named for longtime volunteer Sam Bell, which is now an exhibit featuring the U.S. Coast Guard.

Bell’s widow, Kaye Bell, said the museum informed her of the change but did not grant her request to leave his photo displayed for his children and grandchildren.

Bell is a member of the Cortez Village Historical Society (CVHS), which operates the Cortez Cultural Center near the museum. Along with members of FISH (the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage), the Cortez community and Manatee County officials, members of CVHS lent support to establish the museum, formerly the 1912 Cortez Rural Graded School, to preserve the history of the Cortez commercial fishing industry.

“We are still planning on honoring Sam in another portion of the museum,” Sweeting said, adding that the play area was seldom used, as most museum visitors are adults. An education room containing the museum’s library will be created in another part of the museum to serve families, she said.

While many decisions have yet to be made, two large exhibits will stay on permanent exhibit, Sweeting said – the pole skiff built by Cortezian N.E. Taylor in 1932 and the vintage red wooden door that was once the front door of the building.

Smaller exhibits, including handmade dioramas portraying net fishing, may no longer be on permanent display, but rotated with other exhibits, she said.

“Some artifacts will come off display and go into storage while others will come in,” Sweeting said.

Other ideas are to divide the shell collection, which is now in one place, and display it throughout the museum, add oral history videos to some exhibits and translate written explanations of exhibits into Spanish.

The conceptual plan for the museum’s “re-imagining” also features a different floor plan, guiding visitors in one direction through the museum and out through the gift shop, instead of offering two paths near the entrance, Sweeting said.

After the plan is finalized, work is expected to begin in mid-2020 with funding from a Florida Department of State Division of Cultural Affairs grant, she said.

To offer input on proposed changes at the museum or to register to take a tour on Saturday, Dec. 14, call 941-708-6120.