Humans are story-telling creatures. We make sense of the world and those around us by the conversations we have and the interactions we share. As humans change, so too do our communications with each other. In Downtown Pensacola, through a partnership between the UWF Historic Trust and Gulf Power, there is finally a way to relive our past experiences and capture our new ones. Through a gift of $600,000, Gulf Power sponsored the opening of the Voices of Pensacola, a living museum located across from Seville Quarter. The dynamic, multifunctional exhibits within represent our past and provide a place for residents and visitors alike to gather, learn and tell their rich stories. Walking in, visitors are immediately greeted by a historically preserved building and various installations that tell the history of Pensacola from the perspective of the different ethnicities that have called this city home—Native Americans, African Americans, Europeans, Hispanics and Asians. Oral history labs as well as a staged lecture space, changing exhibits and the Marketplace—the museum store with meeting space—are featured on the first floor.
“The Voices of Pensacola is all about exploring people who have founded and developed Pensacola,” said Dr. Brendan Kelly, vice president of UWF Advancement. “This area is rich in various cultures and this experience is emblematic of that. It helps us celebrate and relive the contributions and input of these people so they are not lost.”
Rob Overton, the chief operating office for UWF Historic Trust, said that as Pensacola and the people within Pensacola change, so too will the museum.
“A lot of the features are on wheels for easy transportation,” said Overton. “We have put together an advisory committee who will recommend frequent and relevant updates.”
Visitors to Voices of Pensacola are encouraged to add to the living exhibits by marking their hometown on a large map, scrawling a picture or message with chalk, or even recording their own story with audio and video equipment in a small, makeshift studio. Overton and team took a page from the StoryCorps NPR program to inspire people to record each other’s stories and learn from them.
“We want to capture these experiences before they’re lost forever,” said Overton.
The Voices of Pensacola’s upstairs is filled with a history nerd’s fantasy—aisles and aisles of file cabinets filled with tens of thousands of historic photos, glass prints, city records, deeds, maps and more. Volunteers are working to digitize all the content and eventually make it all available online for the community at large.
“Voices of Pensacola is an extension of what UWF strives to be, which is a resource to the community,” said Kelly. “You may not always feel connected to an event, but you always feel connected to a people. We want to provoke thought and conversations around those people. This is a place for people to share their story and that perspective to be captured and retained.”