Tuesday, July 23, 2019, the Mobile City Council voted on a series of resolutions that have altered the management structure and debt service arrangements of the GulfQuest Maritime Museum. The agreement will have banks that hold loans for the GulfQuest Board forgive $2.4 million dollars in loan obligations in exchange for a payment of $400,000 from the board and $2 million from the City of Mobile over the next 5 years. These agreements will also bring the operation of the museum under the direct oversight and management of the city. This probably signals the end of the tunnel for the tumultuous period the GulfQuest has gone through to get up and running. This is welcome news, but how we move on from this point forward as a community and a museum is important to the success of the museum and financial health of the city. Here is a look at the problems facing GulfQuest.
The biggest obstacle the GulfQuest has faced is that it suffers from the fact that there hasn’t been anybody with the necessary long term vision and the experience and connections to enact that vision. This problem was solved several months when Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson appointed former Mobile Mayor Mike Dow to be Executive director of the museum. The idea of building the GulfQuest started under Mayor Dow’s administration, so it only makes
The independent GulfQuest Maritime Museum Board has been plagued by money problems from the inception of this project. The board has been ineffective in raising money to build exhibits and operations at the museum. Furthermore, the costs of building the building over-ran their already exorbitant costs due to construction delays and setbacks. The museum itself had only been open for several months before the Stimpson administration temporarily closed it done because of its lackluster performance.
Because of the money issues and crippling debt, the GulfQuest Board has been unable to keep the content fresh and relevant to it’s intended audience. This has contributed to the museum’s inability to continue to attract repeat business from local patrons.
So How Do
We Solve These Problems?
First, we need to start getting attendance up. The Mob Museum in Las Vegas offers Nevada’s residents a discount off of any ticket they purchase. I am sure that was included in some funding deal between the museum and the state. Now that the museum will become a city department, why can’t we implement the same thing? This will encourage city residents to utilize the museum more and even eat at any restaurant in the museum. The city already has started to solve leadership problem at the museum, and getting the board out from under this debt obligation will allow that leadership to turn their focus to the future. Hiring a full-time grant writer on the museum staff would be a very smart step to building a brighter future for it. The grant writer and any fundraising staff should work closely with the museum’s curating staff to focus fundraising efforts on new exhibits to attract more people.
What should those new exhibits be about? A few of the ideas I have come up with include:
- An exhibit about the travels of the Clotilda on that ill-fated trip to the shores of West Africa and back through the Middle Passage.
- An exhibit about the history of shipbuilding in Mobile, a place that has a history of shipbuilding that reaches back to our Colonial days.
- An exhibit about the Liberty Ships built for the Merchant Marines right here in Alabama.
- An exhibit about the Waterman Steamship Corporation that can explain the development of multinational shipping conglomerates, while also telling the story of a Mobile Company.
- An exhibit about the research, development, and building of the Hunley Submarine, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in warfare combat, which was also built right here in Mobile.
The opportunities available to museum and city due to these new arrangements can be a very positive step forward if we only do it right and don’t squander it. Can we salvage this museum and make it positive? Only time will tell.