Helping others learn the history of Lake Champlain

Courtesy photo
Susan Evans McClure of Hinesburg is the new executive director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

By PHYL NEWBECK

The name McClure is one that has been associated with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum for many years, but now there is a new McClure at the Ferrisburgh non-profit. No relation to the philanthropist Lois McClure for whom a full-scale replica canal boat is named, Susan Evans McClure was hired as executive director of LCMM last November and is excited to be taking the helm. A resident of Hinesburg, the 35-year-old McClure has a background in museums and public history.

“I was really impressed with the work that has taken place here, as well as the staff, the collection and the deep connection to the community,” she said.

McClure’s most recent museum experience was at the Smithsonian where she worked at the National Museum of American History, developing visitor programs. McClure started the museum’s Food History Program, which looks at food as a way to understand American history. She became the director of programs and audience development where she used artistic performances to inspire discussions. The Smithsonian has roughly four million visitors each year which gave McClure the opportunity to learn how to engage a variety of people. She hopes to use those skills to increase the number of visitors to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

The LCMM hosts a variety of programs including classes, workshops and summer camps, some of which have existed for decades. McClure is particularly proud of the Champlain Longboats Program, now in its 20th year, which teaches students to build a boat from scratch. The boats then become part of the museum’s high school rowing program and over the years, hundreds of students have built and rowed the longboats.

McClure is a maritime history enthusiast and believes her work in public history and museums helps complement the boating expertise of other staff members. She is not a diver but she is very proud of the marine research component of the museum which includes underwater archeologists. “Lake Champlain has 300 shipwrecks,” she said, “and the museum manages the state’s nine underwater historic preserves.”

After leaving the Smithsonian and returning to Vermont with her family (she had previously worked at the Shelburne Museum and Magic Hat Brewery), McClure was hired as the executive director of VSA Vermont which is dedicated to making the arts more accessible to people with disabilities.

“It’s a great organization,” she said, “but I was excited about the opportunity to return to museum work. The content and collection here are world class.”

In addition to wanting to increase visits to the museum, McClure is hoping to digitize their collection of approximately 15,000 objects ranging in size from a piece of a cannonball to a boat, and to make better use of social media. Her desire to share information helps inform her volunteer work as a trustee of the Carpenter Carse Library.

“One of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity for Vermonters to feel a connection to Lake Champlain and to understand how the people of the area have interacted with the lake throughout our history,” McClure said. “When we have an understanding and a deeper connection, there is the ability to make change for the future in areas like environmental stewardship, conservation and civic engagement. We can learn from the past so we can be better stewards of the future of our region.”

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