Augusta’s First Amendment Museum secures exhibition design grants



A render shows what the First Amendment Museum should look like once its renovation is complete. Image courtesy of the First Amendment Museum

AUGUSTA – The First Amendment Museum, located in Guy P. Gannett’s former home in Augusta, won a grant of nearly $ 250,000 to complete the design of what officials say is his cutting-edge exhibit intended to inspire visitors to understand, practice and preserve their First Amendment rights to religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

The federal $ 249,000 Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services will be used to complete the design of the museum’s exhibit, which is slated to be installed as part of a $ 14 million overall restoration and expansion of the building.

The planned interactive exhibit, officials said, will allow visitors to meet, interact with and reflect on their rights by reinforcing the notion that citizens use and engage with the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Each room in the museum will interpret a particular aspect of the First Amendment. A dystopian kitchen will show what life could be like in a society without the First Amendment, a “Censorship Library” will highlight books, movies and music that have been banned, a teenage bedroom will explore the discourse of youth and social media, and an exercise The Room will “engage kinesthetic learners,” according to a press release.

“This major grant will help us create a unique, interactive and relevant visitor experience” Co-founder of Genie Gannett and Chairman of the Board, and a granddaughter of Guy Gannett, said in the statement.

The non-partisan the museum is already open, with temporary exhibitions and guided interactive tours focused on the First Amendment and the five freedoms it protects: religion, speech, press, meeting and petition. Admission is free and the museum, located at 184 State St. next to Blaine House, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and, until September 4, Saturday.

Deborah Williams, director of outreach engagement for the First Amendment Museum, said on Monday that the exhibit will be worked on alongside the physical restoration and expansion of the 1911 building, which will likely begin next year with the aim of open the new exhibit at the end of 2023 or early 2024..

The exhibition will be created by the designer Helen Riegle of HER Design in Boston, whose portfolio includes “Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial” from the Boston Public Library, “A Whole New Game” from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and “America on The Move” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“The museum exhibits will show how Americans have used their First Amendment rights as a tool to move our society forward and to create that ‘more perfect union’ which is our civic burden,” said Christian Cotz, Managing Director of the museum. “But perhaps more importantly, these dynamic, stimulating and interactive exhibits will inspire people to live their freedoms and exercise their rights more intentionally and effectively.”

A fundraising campaign to fund the project is in its early stages, according to Jamie O’Brien, Director of Development. Donations can be made through the museum’s website.

The expansion will double the size of the facility and will be attached to the rear of the building.

Guy Gannett and his family lived in the house for about 10 years before moving to Portland when the publishing company he founded with his father purchased the Portland Press Herald. The Gannett Publishing Co. also owned the Waterville Sentinel, the Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram, the Portland Evening Express and the Daily Kennebec Journal. They later expanded to broadcast media, but sold the company in 1998.

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