INDEPENDENCE — Carly Annable is excited to be the museum manger at the Independence Heritage Museum, a position that started before Thanksgiving.
“The biggest thing right now is just getting acquainted with the museum and with the community,” she said. “I can really tell that there is a strong connection between the community and the museum and the history that’s here, which is really awesome to see.”
Annable said she appreciates the work museum staff and volunteers have done already.
“Most of what I’ve been doing is kind of figuring out where everything is and educating myself more deeply on the history of Independence and really getting to know my board members and the community at large,” she said.
Annable is impressed with the diversity of culture and experiences in Independence, she said.
“Being able to tell those stories is something I’m really excited to work on,” Annable said. “I want everyone that steps through the door here to see themselves represented in the history that they’re checking out. That’s something that all museums need to be focusing on. It’s not something we can ever say, ‘Hey, we’ve done it.’ It’s something that you’ve got to constantly be striving and challenging your institution to keep working on.”
In the short term, Annable wants to refresh some of the exhibits at the Heritage Museum.
She wants to look through and make sure everything matches current best practices, “making sure that everyone is represented in the manner that they should be, but also trying to see if there are other stories there.”
“If you look at an exhibit, like the blacksmiths exhibit, not every single piece in there was donated by the same person,” Annable said. “There’s information in any exhibit that you can go back and dig deeper into who donated, who had some sort of an impact of how it got there, and those are stories that you can use to take an exhibit that already exists but kind of give a different spin on it.”
She moved to Independence from Baker County, but is originally from upstate New York.
“I just wanted a change of scenery,” Annable said about why she moved to Oregon three years ago. “It’s just a different pace of life out here. The work/life balance is really nice.”
Her first job working in a museum was in Baker County.
“To just start as a museum director out of nowhere was a bit of a challenge,” she said.
Immediately before that she worked in a bank and, before that, she was one of the mangers for the Sam Adams Brewery tour center in Boston.
A big part of that was talking about the history of brewing in the area and in the United States.
“One of the reasons that they think civilization began was because of beer,” Annable said. “I love it because it’s been there pretty much every step of the way from the beginning of time until now, and I just think that that connection is really fascinating.
“It’s funny to be here, the hop capital of the world.”
The transition to working in museums seemed natural.
“I love communities and community development,” Annable said. “With my undergraduate degree in anthropology and a lifelong love of museums and travel, it made sense to me.”
That lifelong love is due, in part, to annual trips she used to take with her parents.
“My dad is a farmer and my mom is a college professor, so we’d get large chunks of time when I was a kid in the summer,” Annable said. “We always made sure we did at least one major trip. One of them was, we flew into San Francisco and drove up the Coast and flew out of Seattle. My dad wanted to make sure we saw the Spruce Goose (at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, in McMinnville).”
She said she’ll go to any museum, but the way she views them has changed.
“I look more at the visitor flow and how people move through the space and how visitors interact with their exhibits more so than I look at their actual content,” she said with a laugh.
Without hesitation, Annable said her favorite museum is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The museum was targeted in 1990 for one of the largest art heists in the last 50 or 60 years.
“When you go to the museum it is in her actual home,” Annable said. “She’s curated everything the way she wanted it to be and part of the will was that you couldn’t move anything. They built a whole extra building attached to it so they could house other collections.”
That was the first time Annable thought about the relationship between donors, their pieces and space, she said.
“One of the ways museums have to try to stay relevant is you have to change up what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” Annable said. “Museums in general tend to have this impression on people that you go, and you visit once, and that’s it.”
Museums need to be the kinds of places that people can go back to once or twice a year and learn more, she said.
“I saw a presentation at the Oregon Museums Association this year and they were talking about how museums actually have a really positive future ahead of them if they can figure out how to work with millennials,” Annable said. “Millennials are very mission-driven, according to all the research, whereas we don’t want to spend money unless we know it’s going for something good. With museums being so mission- and vision-driven, if museums can figure out a way to tap into that and connect, they’re probably going to be fine.”
Annable thinks that analysis is accurate, “if you buy into the fact that to survive, museums need to be hubs for the community.”
Institutions need to be open to change, she said.
To that end, she hopes to nurture more community partnerships.
“That’s a big thing that I really want to work hard at,” Annable said. “We talk about refreshing exhibits, but also I would like to put in a new exhibit. It would be really great if we could work with an organization that has a story they want to tell, and work with them to give them a platform to share what they think is important about Independence or their history, their connection to it.”
Annable has her MBA, so she looks at the situation from a business standpoint as well as a historical perspective.
“When you give other groups a platform to be able to tell their story and to give their interpretation … not only are you getting buy-in from that group, you’re giving them a platform,” Annable said. “You’re getting buy-in from them, but you’re also engaging a different subset of the population that you might not have gotten visiting the museum before.”
“I want to get more people through the doors,” she added.