[Maritime Week / Bell Street Pier]


New museum fulfills a 20-year dream for waterfront community supporters

Odyssey Museum

A small boy, seated high in the cab of a container crane, steers a container into the hold of a waiting ship. His sister has just returned from a stormy North Pacific fishing trip with tales of seas boiling with salmon. Their mother, wielding the tools of a naval architect, has just designed the hull and hold of the family's new super-yacht. Some sort of strange Captain Nemo dream? Not at all. This is Odyssey, the region's new maritime discovery center currently under construction at Pier 66.

Scheduled to open in March 1997, the Odyssey Museum will help make the Bell Street Pier a popular attraction for visitors and residents alike.

Odyssey, part of the new Bell Street Pier project, is at the crest of a world-wide trend in visitor attractions, cultural institutions, and educational resources. Andy Kramer, president of West Office Exhibition Design, Odyssey's San Francisco-based exhibit firm, notes that visitor attractions no longer simply show the public objects and artifacts.

"Today's successful visitor attraction teaches by immersing the visitor in unfamiliar yet interesting environments that challenge the senses," he says. West Office has extensive experience creating some of the most modern exhibit attractions, from as far away as Los Angeles and Hong Kong and as close as the new Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

Odyssey's evolution began two decades ago when a core group of volunteers created a visitor attraction and maritime educational center on Seattle's Pier 57 called The Water Link. The center was operated by the nonprofit group Waterfront Awareness, spearheaded by Professor Marc Hershman, current director of the University of Washington's School of Marine Affairs.

Harvesting the Sea Gallery -- One of Odyssey's three main theme galleries focusing on the enormously valuable commercial fishing and retail seafood businesses that benefit the Puget Sound region. Major exhibits include Kid Skiff II, a fishing vessel just for kids sporting a variety of replicated commercial fishing gear and simulated navigational and fish-finding electronics; Fish Pieces, oversized 3D salmon and crab puzzles that reveal the interesting innards of these two regional favorites; and Fish Track, a series of commercial fish models circling throughout the gallery space.

Hershman explains that there is a great need for a maritime discovery center in this region. He points to barriers that have emerged over the past decades, separating people from their waterfront heritage and the marine-based economy, and inhibiting peoples' awareness of activities that traditionally take place on the waterfront. He emphasizes that "maritime" is not a descriptor of the past, belonging to things destined to sit idly in glass cases, but is instead a vital presence that surrounds us everyday.

"This is evident in the views of the water from so many vantage points," says Hershman. "The cranes pierce the skies in our harbors. The ubiquitous image of the salmon is emblazoned throughout this region. Even the names that have been bestowed on our local sports teams have maritime roots."

It is this sense of pride in our maritime past, present, and future that has driven those behind Odyssey to rekindle the ties between the community and the sea.

Today, the core group of volunteers that was Waterfront Awareness has grown into a community-wide coalition of civic and business leaders, educators, and dedicated individuals sharing a common vision. That vision is Odyssey, the community's new maritime discovery center. Maritime and non-maritime businesses, foundations and individuals have found common ground in support of Odyssey, emphasizing that Odyssey is indeed a community-wide resource. To date, more than $7 million of the $12 million capital campaign goal has been raised.

Ocean Trade Gallery -- One of Odyssey's three main theme galleries centered around themes of transportation, international trade, and ports and harbors. Major exhibits include Move It!, a container crane simulator; the Invisible Container, a full-size container with one wall that disappears to reveal the variety of goods shipped via container; and Tradelines, a bright, animated series of map projections revealing regional, coastal and international cargo transportation routes.

Odyssey, a private nonprofit organization, will be a tenant of the Port of Seattle at the Bell Street Pier. Other Pier 66 neighbors include Anthony's Home Port Restaurant, the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, A Fishing Place (fish processor) and many others. Odyssey's waterfront location will make it an ideal educational forum and landmark tourist attraction.

With the assistance of teachers, librarians, and interactive computer specialists, plans are underway to use Odyssey as an expanded regional classroom. Odyssey will work with teachers in Seattle and the region to bring its resources together with those experts who know how to put these resources to work for our kids. Odyssey's goal is to provide an integrated, dynamic, educational curriculum that ties maritime activities to an understanding of our economy and builds a connection between the community, our schools, and our children.

In March of 1997, visitors will be able to join the crew on the bridge of a fishing vessel enroute to the Bering Sea. They could also take a breathtaking ride inside a cargo container as a crane lifts it 75 feet in the air, then lowers it 50 feet into the hold of a huge container ship. They may even skirt swells deftly in a sea kayak as they explore the hidden wonders of the Puget Sound coast in an immersive "virtual reality" experience.

But first Odyssey must meet its capital campaign goal, and that means raising another $2.1 million dollars from private sources. Puget Sound is the nation's leading maritime region and Odyssey will celebrate our heritage and contemporary culture through daily maritime discovery. Odyssey will connect downtown with the waterfront, revitalize business and activity on the northern end of Alaskan Way, and add new vitality to our maritime city. Odyssey will be an innovative educational center for our youth, a meeting place for civic and business leaders, and an enduring symbol for our region.

For more information about Odyssey and how you can bring this exciting new venture to life, call 623-2120 or email OdysseyCMM@aol.com.

Return to Maritime Week / Bell Street Pier top page

Copyright © 1996 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.