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Meet the Executive Director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum

Meet the Executive Director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum

 

If you have ever visited a museum, you might have seen scary prehistoric creatures or historical treasures like the Liberty Bell, even meteorites and spaceships! Have you ever wondered who makes those exhibits come to life? Museum directors are the people who pull it all together.

 

Today, we are going behind the scenes of the 113-year-old Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (PMPM) in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with K. David Weidner, Ph.D., executive director. The 252-foot-high monument (the tallest granite structure in the whole country!) commemorates the Mayflower’s landing in the new world, way back in 1620. The museum showcases the arrival of the Pilgrims and tells the real story of their impact on the Native Americans already living in Provincetown. It also explores the area’s rich history as a whaling and fishing center and its role in modern American theater.

 

Display in Provincetown Museum showing a polar bear and various other animals and artifacts. Image credit: Joe Aberdale 



What does a museum director do every day?

Lots of different things! There are always a ton of emails to answer, and I have to handle fundraising and the many details involved in running a museum.  I always make time to remember why we are here and what we are all about. I start the day by walking around the museum and the grounds to make sure we’re ready to welcome everyone with a smile. First impressions count. My morning walk-around also gives me a chance to think about our mission—spreading tolerance, acceptance and truth, including the true story of the Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag Nation.

 

What do you mean, the true story?

We have all heard nice stories about the Pilgrims happily sharing the first Thanksgiving with the Native Americans already living here, but that is not what really happened.


It was actually a complicated relationship, with a lot of bad feelings and fighting, and it is our job to correct the record and replace the stereotypes with accurate history.

 

How does the museum do that?

We put together an exhibit called Our Story that tells what happened from the perspective of the Wampanoags, and not the white European settlers. The Pilgrims were not quite so friendly—they stole the Native Americans' food, desecrated sacred burial grounds and even took some of them as slaves. That is a part of the Thanksgiving story we never hear about.

 

How do you put together an exhibit like that?

It starts with a lot of research, like writing a really big paper for school. We worked with local Native American historians to tell their story themselves. It took about two years to develop the Our Story scripts and graphics, shoot the videos and incorporate the latest technology.

 

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite thing is talking to our visitors, whether they are five years old, 55 or 95. They always have a lot of questions and I love answering them.

 

Left: Entrance to display in Provincetown Museum. Right: Image of Provincetown native son Donald B. MacMillan, who explored the Arctic with explorer Robert E. Peary. Image credit: Joe Aberdale. 



What is the hardest part of your job?

One of the biggest challenges is raising all the money we need. It costs a lot just to protect and maintain our Monument, which is well over 100 years old.

Our super-tall monument is on the top of a hill, so it gets battered by all kinds of weather and salt air, 365 days a year. It takes hard work, and money, to keep it in good shape.


It is also expensive to create interesting exhibits, so I spend a lot of time looking for donations and grants.

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in a museum, particularly one that focuses on a smaller community?

I was not looking to be a museum executive directorthe job kind of found me! I started out teaching elementary school, then became an administrator who ran schools and school districts. The museum’s leaders liked the work I had done and saw that I had the organizational and managerial skills they needed. I thought it was a good fit because I love history and spreading the truth, and working at the museum lets me do just that.

 

Could you describe any interactive or hands-on activities within the exhibit that might be particularly interesting to kids?

There are plenty of fun things to do. We have touchscreen kiosks and cases filled with artifacts like beadwork, wampum and Pilgrim items. Our audiovisual presentations are really excitingit is like going back in time. You see and hear what life was like in the early 1600s, and interactive features let you experience what the native Wampanoag children were doing back then. We also have some cool exhibits, including a polar bear and a walrus, that were donated by a U.S. Navy Admiral who got them in Antarctica. We even have a tusk from a narwhal, which is sometimes called the unicorn of the sea!

 

 Display in the Provincetown Museum showing a polar bear and walrus from Antarctica.
Image credit: Joe Aberdale. 

 

What advice do you have for any kids who might be interested in working at a museum when they grow up?

A museum is a great place to work for anyone who likes history, asking questions, telling stories and digging up the past.

Museums are not dusty old places we are using new technologies to capture stories from the past and present them in a way that people can understand today and tomorrow.


We use video and interactive technology to make things interesting. If you like all those things, you would probably like working in a museum.

 

Finally, are there any ways kids (or their parents) can get involved with or support PMPM?

Absolutely. Check out our website, www.pilgrim-monument.org. We have some great drone videos that will show you how tall the Pilgrim Monument is. Discover how many steps and ramps are in the monument, and learn about our new inclined elevator, which comes from Switzerland. There are not very many of them in the entire United States and ours is the only one open to the public in Massachusetts. And finally, come visit us in Provincetown! We would love to see you.


 

Display in Provincetown Museum showing art made from whale teeth. Image credit: Joe Aberdale.