RICHMOND -- The new leadership at the Richmond Museum of History is looking at ways to reach a larger audience by bringing more people to its landmark downtown building and by taking exhibits to the public.

The museum, an anchor presence in Nevin Park that makes its home in the former Carnegie library building at 400 Nevin Ave., is lightly visited except for special events and receptions for new exhibits.

New museum manager and curator Melinda McCrary realizes that it will take more than static exhibits to pique the interest of a younger generation raised on electronic devices and instant information.

"Problem No. 1 is that people don't even know we exist," she said. "We need to market ourselves. And we need to do shows that people care about."

Right now, that means capitalizing on the Bay Area's baseball fever with the new exhibit, "Semi-pro Baseball In Richmond, California," which opens with a reception at 2 p.m. April 14.

The exhibit, which will include artifacts and images from the days when baseball was the king of youth sports in the city, will also have interactive elements, including a chance for visitors to learn the tradition of documenting a game by keeping score.

She would like to see more hands-on exhibits, starting with one that is high-tech -- or at least was in the 19th century.

"We're working really hard on our first interactive exhibit, which is the stereoscope -- very simple, but it makes a big impact," McCrary said. "We're making small changes that are manageable, but will make a dynamic difference."


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Other ideas include distributing Spanish language promotional materials and creating a "History Trunk" containing artifacts from the museum's extensive collection that could be taken to classrooms.

McCrary, a Chicago native who has a master's degree in anthropology and is now in the museum studies program at San Francisco State, is part of the new hierarchy that has assumed leadership at the museum this year.

John Ziesenhenne is the new board president of the Richmond Museum Association, which includes the Nevin Avenue building and its extensive collection, as well as the SS Red Oak Victory, a World War II cargo ship docked at the Port of Richmond.

"We're in a growing period that I think is going to last awhile," Ziesenhenne said. "We want to grow our membership. We definitely want to open the museum to more exhibitions, as well as our exciting plans for the Red Oak that includes the Nov. 11 sail."

The museum acquired the Red Oak during the tenure of Lois Boyle, who was termed out in March after heading the Richmond Museum Association for 30 years.

Boyle rankled some with a strong-handed management style, but, according to Ziesenhenne, "she led the museum in a very good direction. Without her leadership, the museum wouldn't have the Red Oak. My guess is that it would have been scrapped."

The museum has already issued invitations to West Contra Costa schools and service groups and will be giving membership cards to City Council members. The museum and the ship are also now on the list of destinations of the Discover & Go program at the Contra Costa Library.

"It's not heavily traveled yet, and that's something Melinda and the board are in the process of trying to change by generating more publicity with the public and the schools," Ziesenhenne said. "To do that, we have to have more money, and that's why we're trying to get more members in the museum and the Red Oak Victory."

McCrary is also seeking volunteers to staff the museum, freeing her to catalog the collections (only about 5 percent is on display), reconfigure exhibits and do community outreach.

"We need to be working much harder at interacting with everyone in the community," she said. "There is so much to be proud of. It's a great feeling to be able to change young people's perspectives, make them proud of the past, proud of the present, proud of the future. Part of our mission is to improve life here, and we can do that by educating people about their history."

If you go
  • The Richmond Museum of History, 400 Nevin Ave., is open 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
  • The new exhibit, "Semi-pro Baseball in Richmond, California," opens with a reception at 2 p.m. April 14. The museum will also dedicate its monument garden extension that day.
  • People interested in volunteering at the museum can contact Melinda McCrary at 510-235-7387.