Small but mighty, young but wise. New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center opened in 2016 in a 3,000 sq. foot space and quickly became a place of pride and “must-see” attraction in New Bedford’s historic district. This is a museum done right, with only 2 ½ paid staff and dedicated volunteers.
Executive Director Laura Orleans is a folklorist, so it makes sense that the Center’s programming and exhibitions revolve around storytelling. “We focus on community traditions and giving this community a voice. Fishing is about more than economics and a prosperous New Bedford industry. It’s about the people and the quiet pride this community shares. They deserve acknowledgement for their bravery, resilience, and resourcefulness under the most difficult conditions of all,” says Laura.
Providing an authentic experience is the Center’s overarching goal. The main gallery offers interactive exhibits while Listening Stations expand display space and offer audio stories accompanied by historic and contemporary photographs. Exhibits examine larger themes like sustaining the resource, immigration, and the changing nature of work and community. “We tell a big story in a small space,” says Laura.
The backbone of the Center’s work is education, and their calendar is chock full of lively programs that expand understanding while engaging audiences with authentic voices and varied content. The Center hosts school trips for all ages, kindergarten classes through graduate programs, offers walking tours to the docks and even a SomethingFishy Summer Camp.
Annual themes guide the Center’s programming decisions, beginning in March of 2021, the focus has been women in fishing. As the centerpiece, a gallery exhibit, “Women’s Work: At Sea, On Shore, At Home, In the Community,” offers remarkable photography accompanying oral history interviews with women who work on deck as fishermen and scientists, on shore as welders and electricians, women who own businesses and boats, and women who advocate on behalf of the fishing industry. The exhibit will remain on view through June of 2022.
Events and programming expand on the theme, with films, talks, tours, and performances. For the March 10th AHA! Night, the Center is hosting “Women in the Wheelhouse,” where visitors will meet female captains, mates, and deckhands who will share firsthand experiences of their work on commercial fishing boats. As always, AHA! Night events are free to all but space is limited, so reserve a spot at https://womeninthewheelhouse.bpt.me.