First Amendment Museum, Augusta, Maine
On Wednesday evening, March 14, 2018 at the Vero Beach, FL Quail Valley River Club, First Amendment Museum president Genie Gannett and Executive Director Rebecca Lazure announced to invited guests their plans to bring their innovative and interactive First Amendment curriculum to Vero Beach, and to use Vero Beach as a springboard for launching it on a national basis.
“Every one of us makes use of the First Amendment every day of our lives, whether we realize it, or not. Every hour something happens related to the First Amendment. It is the guardian of our democracy,” said Genie Gannett.
But new polling in 2017 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that 25 percent of Americans can’t name any First Amendment rights while another 12 percent don’t know any. The Center polled over 1,000 U.S. adults over 18 on civics as part of an annual survey.
Of the more commonly known freedoms, almost half of respondents named freedom of speech, 15 percent named freedom of religion, 14 percent named freedom of press, and 10 percent named the right to assemble.
The First Amendment Museum reception was sponsored by Bass and Shepard Wealth Management Group of Raymond James who has an office and local ties in Vero Beach. William H. Shepard, a Raymond James financial advisor who lives in Ocala, FL., a member of the First Amendment Board of Directors, and Ryan Bass, who lives in Vero Beach, recommended Vero Beach as an ideal community to host the launch.
The mission of the First Amendment Museum at the Gannett House is to examine the history and promote the practice and understanding of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Gannett family’s local, state, and national involvement in such history and practice will set the stage for the examination of these freedoms around the world.
The museum is repurposing the home of Maine newspaper publisher Guy P. Gannett as an interactive First Amendment Museum honoring the Gannett family legacy.
Guy P. Gannett founded the Guy Gannett Publishing Company as an “institution to be managed for the public good”. What started with a publishing venture that merged Portland Maine’s newspapers together as the Portland Press Herald, grew into a major communications firm operating newspapers, radio, and television stations around the country.
Guy P. Gannett
The First Amendment Museum’s home is a 112-year-old Mediterranean Revival home on State Street in Augusta next to the Blaine House, the Governor’s mansion. Built in 1911, the home was a wedding gift from William H. Gannett to his son, Guy.
The state acquired the home in 1973 for office space. After outgrowing the space in 2010, the State Planning Office moved down the street, leaving the home vacant. It took five years to purchase the building in late 2015, thanks to funding from the Patricia and John Gannett Foundation.
During those five years Genie Gannett and her sister, Terry Gannett Hopkins, conceptualized and planned the First Amendment Museum.
The once grand 5,000-square-foot house suffered deterioration over the years, especially after the State vacated the house 2010 and it was left vacant. Once acquired, the First Amendment Museum, through private funding began a significant renovation and restoration project captured here in these videos.
The First Amendment Museum’s home and headquarters, a National Register Property, in Augusta, Maine under construction. This video shows progress on the building’s exterior rehabilitation. Video produced by Sweet Thunder Productions.
A bird’s eye view of the Gannett House during the roof rehabilitation project. Video courtesy of David Quist.
The First Amendment Museum’s curriculum is unique: “We are developing techniques for engaging and participating in the First Amendment that will help all Americans see where they fit into the story and live the freedoms that are so precious to our nation,” said Ms. Lazure, Executive Director.
Ms. Gannett, her sister and Ms. Lazure have been working in Maine on cross-curricular K-12 programs for every stage of learning development that can be shared across the country through traveling exhibits and activity modules.
In August 2017, in partnership with the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, the Museum sponsored a two-day summer seminar program featuring guest speakers, and resources from Teaching Tolerance, the National Institute for Civil Discourse, the Newseum, and more. The focus of the seminar was to have a conversation about the methods of civil discourse that can be incorporated into schools.
In July, 2017, in partnership with the Children’s Discovery Museum, the Museum experimented with ways for children to express themselves through art, storytelling, music, writing, and more. They encouraged students to “Take a stand for what you care about.”
Campers at Speak Your Mind Camp, Summer 2017, work on crafting letters to the editor for the local newspaper.
The Museum also hosted a pop-up exhibition from the National Archives, The Bill of Rights and You, commemorating the 225th anniversary of the ratification of this landmark Amendment. The Bill of Rights and You exhibit will be on view during upcoming programming hosted by the Gannett House.
The Bill of Rights and You spotlights one of the most remarkable periods in American history, explores the origins of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (collectively known as the Bill of Rights), illustrates how each amendment protects U.S. citizens, and looks at how Americans exercise the rights outlined in the amendments. The Bill of Rights and You invites visitors to connect directly with the people, places, and events that mark this historic document’s evolution.
The Bill of Rights and You was organized by the National Archives and Records Administration, and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES). The Bill of Rights and You exhibition was developed in collaboration with the National Archives’ National Outreach Initiative to commemorate the 225th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights. The exhibition is presented in part by AT&T, Seedlings Foundation, and the National Archives Foundation.
The Bill of Rights and You exhibition was a collaboration with the Maine Humanities Council and the Federation of State Humanities Councils.
The Museum will continue partnering with local educators, parents, students, religious leaders in after school programs such as The Boy’s and Girl’s Club to gather personal stories on how they live the First Amendment every day. These stories will allow the Museum to build upon the curriculum it has already developed and then shape it further in Vero Beach where it will be launched on a national stage.
In Vero Beach, the Museum sees opportunities for collaboration and is pleased to explore opportunities with the Indian River Charter High School.
According to Gene Waddell, Charter School Superintendent, “this looks like a great opportunity for our students.”
“I believe our core values are positively correlated and that Indian River Charter High School is the ideal organization to partner with the First Amendment Museum in Vero Beach,” said Greg Zajicek, the Curriculum Coordinator and Social Studies Chair at Indian River Charter High School.
“The majority of our students are Visual or Performing Arts students which tend to be First Amendment advocates, especially on the concept of Freedom of Expression. However every student at IRCHS takes several civic value and leadership courses that are grounded constitutionally and emphasize our civil liberties.”
How ironic, and how incredible it is with the timing of the First Amendment Museum’s planned launch, that after eight years of hard work and planning to establish the Museum and its mission, the current climate of First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition have blown up front and center.