• Dave McGuire

A Museum Worthy of Clarksville

The Clarksvillian

The regional profile for Clarksville's only "museum" does not match the reputation of our city.

A borderline secret from this past year? The staff at The Customs House gained national attention in 2021 for a recent racing exhibit. The resulting lack of promotion and community celebration of that success was confusing - very confusing. It's a common challenge: great people, questionable funding, and low prioritization.

It's punching down to acknowledge Clarksville does not have a formal museum program capable of supporting healthy tourism, hosting traveling display events, and/or educating citizens and visitors on a wide range of locally inspired topics. The reasons for the gaps at The Customs House are not unique to our community, as they relate to funding and community alignment. With the newly arrived F&M Bank Arena, the remodeling/rebranding of the Riverview Inn, and the expansion of downtown entertainment options, there is now a window of opportunity to innovate our marketing directed to schools, tourists, and families.

Our local history is overflowing with prominent individuals and events. For some of us, their names are as recognizable as the global brands they have been associated with over the years. Others see these people's work as a testament to innovative thinking and dedicated work ethics within an industry and community. Local influencers such as Charles Hand, Clarence Saunders, and even the city’s namesake, George Clark, provide relatability to show people of all ages what is possible.

Many of your neighbors have made substantial contributions to the business, civic, and athletic communities throughout the country – even globally. Our city has provided proud representatives within each field, and a reimagining of a formal museum would help to recognize those individuals while demonstrating real-world inspiration to visitors. Outside of those individuals, memorable events could also highlight our associations and experiences with pop culture - Sheryl Crow’s video for "All I Wanna Do", the blues era's Chitlin Circuit, Saturday Night Radio Dance Broadcast, Joseph Ruggles Wilson teaching at Southwestern Presbyterian University, Trace Adkins' video for "Still a Soldier" and US Presidential visits to Fort Campbell, to name a few. Those local exhibits would balance contracted partnerships with national museum programs, managing short-term traveling displays as necessary attractions to keep the museum's content fresh and ensure its long-term success. Blending foundational history with relatable modern events is an important key to success being used around the country.

How about budgeting beyond public funding? The short answer is through fundraising from public and private sources.

  • Membership drives

  • Corporate sponsors

  • Dinners to promote local projects and updates on objectives

  • Speaker series to promote exhibits, news events, contributions, and/or influences.

  • Gala events surrounding Clarksville area events such as The Queen City Road Race, APSU Homecomings, New Year’s Eve, Independence Day, etc.

  • Intimate live music or art showcase events

What was the return-on-investment for a cosmetic rebranding of The Customs House "and Culture Center" rather than investing in substantive upgrades?

How would the selection process start for new local exhibits - community engagement?

City and County mayors appoint a nine-member commission to review and select 150 initial nominees (events or people). The commission would then vote on the nominees during an annual fundraising kick-off event held by an oversite group. Those approved exhibits would then be showcased within the museum on a permanent display within the museum. This is a very standard process used at museums nationwide.

Would the location be important?

The location is critical to highlighting exposure to city visitors and local businesses. Maintaining a location within walking distance of the new downtown hotel and arena is important to maximize visitors from both personal and professional tourism. It is unnecessary to take a cost-prohibitive approach to construct a new building. A better approach may focus on repurposing an existing downtown building, or buildings that are sufficient. The Customs House has estimated square footage of 35k sq ft and would be a natural fit. Is that location close enough to draw visitors from the new F&M Bank Arena’s entertainment area and future hotel? Is that location's footprint large enough for growth?

The value of these types of projects is best viewed through the multiple lenses of education, tourism, entertainment, professional recruiting, networking, and history.

Regardless of your view, it’s easy to make this agreeable closing statement. Our collective history provides a valuable catalog of stories deserving of much more significance than its current standing.