Museum Adds Exhibit Space, Programs

Celebrating 35 YearsThe Northwest Florida Heritage Museum Marks the Anniversary With More Exhibit Space and New Programs

By Jason Dehart

{mosimage}A hundred years ago, the people of Okaloosa and Walton counties scratched a hard-earned living from the pine barrens and bays of Northwest Florida. Since 1971, their story has been actively preserved and passed on to new generations, thanks to the Northwest Florida Heritage Museum.

The Valparaiso-based museum, which actively collects and preserves the culture and socio-economic history of the area, is celebrating its 35th birthday this year by expanding its exhibit space and its public programs.

“It’s really a time to recognize the progress that’s been made in preserving local heritage. And now, with the support of actually the city of Valparaiso and the community, we’re continuing to develop as a place of learning,” said Michelle Severino, museum director.

“We started new programs to celebrate our anniversary here,” she said. “One is called ‘History Sandwiched-In,’ which is a successful lunchtime lecture series on topics related to local and regional history. Another series we started this year is called ‘Hands-On History,’ a series of weekend workshops geared toward children. We have some wonderfully creative workshops for children and families.”

Severino said that in the last few months, the museum’s workers have reconfigured wall usage to make better, more efficient use of existing exhibit space without actually adding on to the museum.

“In the last few months we have expanded space by about 300 square feet, and we may be tripling that by the end of the summer,” she said. “It’s all necessary as well as continuing to develop our educative role.”

And speaking of continuing educational outreach, Severino said the museum is going to provide hundreds of hours of instruction in local and regional history, thanks to some new staff.

“We have a new museum education team, and we hired a museum educator who has experience as an Okaloosa County community educator,” she said. “She’s a teacher, an archaeologist and a Florida native, and her experience will be seen in future education programs.”

Since it opened in 1971, the museum has been collecting and preserving the historical “material culture” of the area, Severino said. The collection goes back to the early 19th century and consists of artifacts, photographs, manuscript materials, textiles, paintings and oral histories.

“We make this history accessible to students, educators and the public through our exhibits, programs and our research library . . . and these are all available for research purposes,” she said.

Severino said the museum is conducting research to add an exhibition about the fishing industry and boat building, and also hosts traveling exhibitions from the Florida State Archives and other regional museums.

The museum, which is located at 115 Westview Ave., is managed by the Heritage Museum Association and is funded by membership dues, donations and grants from Okaloosa County, the city of Valparaiso and the state of Florida.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The research library is open to the public by appointment.