A New Museum Without Walls Opens in Washington - Update from The National Herald

Published in The National Herald, July 8-14, 2017 Issue
Authored by Steve Frangos
TNH Staff Writer

I am excited to announce that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group. 



The announcement has been made. The Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State has just launched its latest effort at preservation. This is its “museum without walls” initiative.

The concept is simple: “For the past year the items in the Greeks in Washington collection have been photographed and included in a searchable database. The photos and descriptions of these items are divided into ten categories (textiles, costumes and clothing, photos/slides, documents, audio recordings, film/video/DVD, bound volumes/printed materials, newspapers, art work and other artifacts).”

This museum site did not just spring up overnight. As the Washington Greeks report “since 2009, the Museum has received over 600 items that serve to help share the stories of the Greek experience in Washington State. These items have been donated or loaned to the Museum and are cataloged and preserved in the Museum archive.” All this is all now accessible from their home page greeksinwashington.org.

Since its inception, the Washington Greeks rightly decided to showcase their own. “The primary activity of the Museum is to conduct video interviews which become online exhibits with text, photos and video segments. By the end of 2015, there were over 200 video interviews conducted and 150 exhibits posted on the site.” These online exhibits are divided into the categories of Making a Living, Making a Home, and Keeping Community.” The museum personnel consciously chose the Internet as their forum fully aware that “the internet provides a means of reaching the entire world and viewer responses have been received from far corners of the globe.”

Well aware of the complexities of their overall preservation project, the Washington Greeks have also “established an archive to house donated or loaned items which include textiles, film, video, DVDs, costumes, clothing, bound volumes, printed materials, photos, slides, newspapers, documents, art work, audio recordings and other artifacts. These materials are available for inspection and research purposes.”  

To complement the oral history collections, online exhibitions and the archive the Museum has also sponsored a number of public programs, lectures and other presentations including their most recent public lecture on Alexander Pantages, the Greek theater mogul.

The Greek Museum of Washington collections also include “a special section dedicated to AHEPA family.” The direct involvement of AHEPA as well as the Museum staff's sustained efforts to involve the community's youth in the collection process is simultaneously so obvious as to slip one's notice but in point of fact is not just totally logical but really brilliant. This can be seen in the 2013 and 2015 when the Museum “sponsored a history competition in which young descendants of Greek immigrants were invited to submit essays, videos, electronic presentations or other media to tell the stories of their families’ immigration and experience in Washington.”

Cultural programs such as this museum without walls initiative cannot exist without the widest possible community support. As a case in point, for nearly three generations dance troupes across the nation have brought churches and a wide variety of young adults together in totally unexpected ways. While clergy are very careful to insist that the parishes are first and fundamentally religious it is also widely held that such auxiliary social aspects aid in developing long-term attachments to the Church. The establishment of the Eastern Orthodox Church aside, I can think of no more organic and wide-ranging a social organization than AHEPA.

Now for those of you who closely follow the ongoing national efforts to preserve our history, culture, and memories will recognize that this is not the first Greek-American community to host a history-based computer site. In the past, GreekAmerican collectives in both Dayton, OH and Lowell, MA have sponsored such sites. The Preservation of American Hellenic History (PAHH) website, spearheaded by the late Mary Mousalimos, remains the core of efforts to employ the Internet as the location for what can only be called an electronic GreekAmerican Commons.

All these sustained efforts in historical preservation have not gone unnoticed. The Museum “has received the Charles Payton Heritage Advocacy Award from the Association of King County Historical Organizations (AKCHO). This award is for innovation, initiation, development, or presentation of a plan by an organization or individual which has led to the advancement of funding for heritage projects, protection of heritage resources, or development of advocacy tools such as posters, videos, newsletters or websites.

The Museum has also been recognized by the Washington Museum Association (WMA) for its “museum without walls” because it serves as a significant model of achievement for Washington Museums. This Award of Project excellence is for a project such as education, collections management, public programming or a website.”

As part of this wider cycle of events there was a sizable celebration recently at Seattle's Church of the Assumption. “On Saturday, May 6, 2017, 125 Greek-Americans gathered at Seattle’s Church of the Assumption community hall to honor those who appear in the online exhibits at Greeks in Washington and members of Juan de Fuca chapter of AHEPA with over 35 years of service. This was the latest of several events that have been co-sponsored by both organizations.

“Museum Treasurer Nick Diafos chaired the event and as part of his duties represented “the museum board in recognizing founders John and Joann Nicon, along with editor Helen Georges. Recognition was also given by the Hellenes of the Northwest, the funding body of the Hellenic Studies program at the University of Washington. In addition, 14 members of the Juan de Fuca Chapter with over 35 years of service were recognized and received certificates for their service.”

The establishment of a museum without walls is but the latest form employed by Greeks in the United States to preserve their heritage and history for future generations. The creation of community archives, museums, genealogy programs, the publishing of church histories and other such activities are just the latest versions of what has come before. First, the formation of individual fraternal organizations based on regional affiliations in Greece. Next, the community-by-community legal process of forming state corporations to build churches. Then, the gradual development of auxiliary organizations such as AHEPA, the Daughters of Penelope, the Sons of Pericles, and so on. The nationwide establishment in one Greek Orthodox parish after another of Greek school programs, dance groups, cultural groups, gymnasiums, church libraries and the Hellenic Festivals were/are all aimed, again on the local community level, to retain our culture across generations

Given that literally a host of communities all across the country are independently establishing such organizations speaks to the common sociological need, felt across Greek America, to preserve local history with an aim to past it on to future generations. Coupled with the establishment of such organizations are also a raft of Greek-American written local histories, autobiographies, biographies, and community histories. These published accounts are but another venue for documenting and so preserving the collective past.