JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Dec. 18, 2015) -- Big changes are coming in 2016 for the Lewis Army Museum.
The museum has a new director, curator and is receiving some much needed funding to help usher the nearly 100-year-old building into the 21st century. In addition, easier access for visitors is also on the list.
"We have a lot going on and we're very excited about it," said Erik Flint, Lewis Army Museum director.
Flint took the role of director in July, but he has a long history with the museum. He's served as a volunteer while simultaneously serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and working to obtain his doctorate in history from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Flint took on the job at the same time Heidi Pierson was named the new curator.
"When Heidi and I got together and started talking about what our vision was for the museum, our primary mission was education and outreach," Flint said. "We really wanted to look at reaching out and making education a big priority."
This vision includes integrating the museum into the Army education system. Changes to the exhibits will allow service members and the public to see the logistics of past battles in order to learn from those circumstances.
"It's really making it, not just a walk-in and look at a bunch of neat stuff, but how can Soldiers be professionally developed by coming into the museum," Flint said.
In order to make the museum an educational piece, a lot of work has to be done to preserve the artifacts and library. This type of revamping isn't cheap. The museum has consistently operated on a shoestring budget -- until now.
"Historically, museums have worked for whatever installation they were on," Flint said. "Now, all the museums in the Army are getting reorganized."
The museum leadership will now answer directly to the Centers for Military History in Washington, D.C.
Flint said the Army is looking to the museums on installations across the country and asking, 'What do you do for us?'
The new mission for Army museums is not just preserving the Army history, but also educating and providing value to service members, veterans and the public. To help them accomplish that mission, the Centers for Military History has increased the museum's funding.
"Our budget has gone up, which is really unusual in the government," Flint said.
This means big changes for the Lewis Army Museum. In the next 12 to 15 months, the museum will undergo a $3 million exhibit overhaul.
"A professional museum design contractor was brought in (and) took a look at the museum," Flint said. "With our input and Center of Military Histories, they completed a plan."
A professional exhibit construction firm from Portland, Ore., will build new physical exhibits and cases.
"We're going to be brought into the 21st century with the level and quality of materials and technology," Flint said.
Some of the renovations will include a research room that Flint said he hopes will entice the public.
"We want to be accessible to university students, to community college students, to high school students, middle school students and Soldiers," he said.
Flint's vision to offer more to the public is going to require a lot of help. Fortunately, the museum has some longtime friends willing to pitch in.
The Friends of the Fort Lewis Military Museum is a nonprofit organization created to keep the history of the U.S. Army alive by supporting the museum and its programs. Volunteers do a lot to help the museum, such as running The Cannon Shop -- the museum's gift store.
"All the profits (volunteers) raise are used to directly support the museum," Flint said.
But when the renovations are completed on the museum, Flint said he'll need their assistance in even more ways. One thing volunteers are currently working on is reorganizing the museum library.
"We have an enormous archive of printed material, art and maps that right now aren't publicly accessible," Flint said. "We're a federal institution, and technically what we have is a public archive. One of the big challenges we have is to find out what we have."
Flint also needs to digitize the materials and make them available to the public. He's hoping to acquire more volunteers to help with the effort.
"(When) these new exhibits are done, we are also going to need volunteer educators who can come and lead these educational events," Flint said. "They're the ones who are our primary docents."
So Flint, the nonprofit and the museum staff are counting on more people to step up and help the museum reach the masses.
To learn more about the volunteer group, visit fortlewismuseum.com.