Museum celebrating 20 years of making sure that locals and tourists alike honor our maritime history
By TESS KENNY
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
In 2000, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum started off as nothing more than a few ocean enthusiasts and an old Naval Reserve building. Since then, the institution has expanded into one of Santa Barbara’s most beloved attractions, bringing local history to life right where it began.
From now until December, SBMM will honor 20 years of growth with special events and speakers, upgraded exhibits and new attractions. While looking to the future, the museum also hopes to celebrate by remembering how far they’ve come.
“Santa Barbara has such a strong maritime roots,” said Greg Gorga, SBMM Executive Director. “We’re a harbor where history is being made. We want to remember those who formed our beautiful city.”
Festivities began at a kick-off event on Jan. 9, where SBMM announced its recognition by the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce as the Chamber’s Nonprofit of the Year for 2020. SBMM also announced their submission for national accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums, a dream that’s been a long time coming.
“We’ve been working on getting our accreditation for about two years,” said Mr. Gorga. “Being accredited means that you abide to the best practices in the museum world. It also just opens up a lot of opportunities.”
AAM accreditation signifies a museum’s quality and credibility to not just other museums, but also governments and outside agencies. This will allow SBMM to apply for larger national grants, as well as traveling exhibits they cannot receive right now.
The museum’s plans do not end there. Several exhibits are already undergoing major expansion, like their military exhibit. For Mr. Gorga, this is something he cannot wait to unveil.
“All of the exhibits are just so fascinating,” said Mr. Gorga. “But our military exhibit will include information on the Great White Fleet, the USS Constitution and the building we’re sitting in.”
SBMM is housed in what used to be the Naval Reserve Center of Santa Barbara. Built in 1939, the Reserve served as a base for the California Naval militia’s Sixth Division. Over time, the space also proved to be an integral part of the community, often used by SBCC, UCSB, youth groups and scientists in the area.
Years later, lifelong sailor Bob Keiding saw the empty Reserve and knew it was time for a change. As someone who had spent his whole career in boating, the UCSB graduate wanted to give back to his community in the best way he knew how.
“I felt there was a major chapter in our history that hadn’t been voiced,” said Mr. Keiding, SBMM founder. “When I saw (the Reserve) had space, I thought a museum would be a great use for it. Otherwise, the building would have been split into a bunch of little businesses.”
When Mr. Keiding first proposed his idea to the Santa Barbara City Council, he faced high stakes to make the project a success. Little did he know of what the museum would look like today.
“I was advised by the mayor at the time that if I didn’t make this work, he’d lose his job,” said Mr. Keiding. “But now we’re grown tremendously. It’s a good feeling to know I was involved in that.”
To recognize Mr. Keiding’s contributions, SBMM renamed its collections facility, the Keiding Collections Chandlery. While the museum may have started off small, Mr. Keiding’s vision helped reveal an important part of Santa Barbara’s past.
“Our purpose was always to be a maritime museum, but (Bob) could only do so much when (SBMM) opened its doors,” said Mr. Gorga. “We’ve really filled out quite a bit since then.”
What used to be a few exhibits on local history has grown into an interactive hub of information. Today, the museum attracts almost 45,000 visitors every year. Exhibits include anything from boat models and surfing artifacts to Goleta cannons and shipwreck displays.
SBMM not only hopes to cover Santa Barbara’s deep maritime history, but also a wide range of perspectives within the community. This desire brought on a new addition to SBMM’s artifacts – art.
“For many years, maritime was considered a ‘male’ thing, but we wanted to change that,” said Mr. Gorga. “A lot of the artists we work with are women. They imagine maritime history in a different way. Now we honor a more complete past.”
By bringing in more voices, SBMM has been able to connect with the community more than ever before.
“We want to be a resource and a partner,” said Mr. Gorga. “We love collaborating with other organizations, especially those in art, because a lot of those pieces are built around out coastal environment.”
Going into the next year, SBMM will continue to bridge science with art through three new exhibits. Each will represent the ocean through a different medium, including Japanese Gyotaku prints, photography, and paintings.
Whether visitors gravitate towards nature prints or virtual sport fishing, Mr. Gorga hopes the museum’s efforts to expand leave a lasting impact – and a reason to come back.
“I want to leave them knowing more about the rich history of Santa Barbara,” said Mr. Gorga. “Not only that, I hope people leave with an interest to learn more about the environment, the channel and our oceans.”