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Navy museum earns national accreditation

The Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton has received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. - Leslie Kelly/staff photo
The Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton has received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly/staff photo

“A badge of honor.”

That’s what the professional staff at the Puget Sound Navy Museum calls the American Alliance of Museums’ accreditation. Museum officials recently announced that the Puget Sound Navy Museum in downtown Bremerton has earned its accreditation.

“When we heard, we were just so pleased,” said Danelle Eaton, assistant director and curator. “We celebrated.”

The accreditation is something that sets them apart from most museums, in that only about 7 percent of museums in the nation complete the process and get the credentials. Of the nation’s estimated 17,500 museums, 1,005 are currently accredited. The Puget Sound Navy Museum is one of only fourteen museums accredited in Washington.

“This was the first time we applied,” she said. “And because we only became an official Navy Museum in the spring of 2008, we are one of the youngest museums to receive accreditation.”

According to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the process is a rigorous one that examines all aspects of a museum’s operations. To earn accreditation, a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers.

AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, review and evaluate the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation. While the time to complete the process varies by museum, it generally takes three years.

For the Puget Sound Navy Museum, the process took about a year.

“We had to put together an extensive report,” Eaton said. “Included were our policies and our plans, photographs of our collections and a narrative about our programs.”

In all, the report was more than 1,000 pages. Soon after it was sent off, a committee came for a two-day visit to see the museum.

“They’ve seen the process on paper,” she said. “But then they come to see that we are really following them in our day-to-day work. They look at our collections and the evaluate whether we are doing what we say we are.”

The staff of four paid professionals was told late last year that the museum would receive accreditation, the highest national recognition for a museum.

Accreditation signifies excellence to the museum community, to governments, funders, outside agencies and to the museum-going public.

“Accreditation assures the people of Bremerton that their museum is among the finest in the nation,” said Ford W. Bell, president of the Alliance. “As a result, the citizens can take considerable pride in their homegrown institution, for its commitment to excellence and for the value it brings to the community.”

The idea for the Puget Sound Navy Museum was first proposed by Karl Wood in 1951. Wood, a “Shop 07 Plannerman” at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, noticed that the shipyard’s five-minute warning bell was just sitting near where he worked, as was a collection of photographs documenting the development of the shipyard since its establishment in 1891.

According to a history written by Eaton, Wood speculated that there were plenty of items suitable for a shipyard museum.

A section of the local naval recreation facility known as the Craven Center was reserved to house the museum. It opened to visitors Dec. 3, 1954, with 600 artifacts.

Since that time, the museum has moved four times and the 118-year-old building where it is now has been relocated three times.

Today it is located in historic Building 50 adjacent to Bremerton’s Harborside Fountain Park and has a collection of more than 20,000 artifacts. It is one of 10 museums funded and administered by the U.S. Navy.

In addition to revolving temporary exhibits, its permanent exhibits highlight the history of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), and special operations submarines. Amenities include a theater, family discovery room, and gift shop. The museum has about 45 active volunteers.

Last year the museum had nearly 40,000 visitors, Eaton said.

“We’ve grown from about 10,000 visitors in previous years,” she said. “About 7 percent are people from other countries. The remainder are from the U.S., Washington and local folks from Kitsap County.”

About 60 percent of the visitors have served in the military or have had members of their families who have served, Eaton said. The museum is also popular with military reunion groups and school tours.

Currently, the temporary exhibits include one on the Battle of the Midway, and another on World War II cartoons as published in the Navy newsletter, “Salute.”

A permanent exhibit on the USS Stennis is very popular, she said.

“People don’t think about what it would be like to live and work on an aircraft carrier until they actually see it through the exhibit,” she said.

As for comments and questions from visitors, Eaton has heard many.

“Probably the thing that most visitors are surprised to learn is that women and minorities were working in the shipyard during World War I,” she said. “Most people think that didn’t come about until World War II. When they see the photographs, they comment about that.”

The Puget Sound Navy Museum is free and open to the public. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.on Sundays (closed Tuesdays, October through April). For more information visit www.PugetSoundNavyMuseum.org.

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