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Fishing Heritage Center finds a home

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Southcoast Today | The Standard-Times

Steve Urbon (March 13, 2016)

The former AirGas building at 38 Bethel St. in New Bedford will be the new home of the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center. Steve Urbon/The Standard-Times/SCMGThe former AirGas building at 38 Bethel St. in New Bedford will be the new home of the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center. Steve Urbon/The Standard-Times/SCMG Standard-Times.

NEW BEDFORD — The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center has at last found a home, in the very heart of the historic and national park district downtown.

Executive Director Laura Orleans announced that a 3,000-square-foot space at 38 Bethel St., historic and handicap accessible, has been leased for three years starting April 1 from Ben and Deborah Baker.

The space “will accommodate changing exhibits, public programs, school groups, archives and community gatherings,” said the announcement.

The move into the 1880 commercial building ends a quest that began about a year ago after the Heritage Center had a disagreement over how to house the center at the Mariner’s Home, just up the hill and across the street. The Bethel Street property has been vacant for some time after AirGas moved out.

Orleans said that the group has set an ambitious target opening date of late June, just under four months from now.

The Heritage Center was organized to fill a gap in the historical story of New Bedford: that of the history of the commercial fishing industry that replaced whaling. “The commercial fishing community deserves a place to preserve and present its stories and artifacts,” said Orleans.

The task now is to find an exhibit designer who understands the objectives of the center and can create dramatic banners and oversized photographs at a cost the center can afford, Orleans said.

While the exhibits take shape, the center on May 21 is set to conduct “a day of digitization,” otherwise called “Salted, Pickled or Smoked.” People with artifacts including letters and photographs will be invited to bring what they have to the center to be scanned in digitally for permanent storage.

The center in December won a $12,000 grant from the National Endowments for the Humanities.

Orleans said that the group has been actively fund-raising among corporate donors and will soon stage a large fund-raising drive to pay for the center headquarters.

During 2016 the center will continue to present “Dock-u-mentaries,” its monthly film/speaker series and Something Fishy, its free summer camp program, in collaboration with the National Park and Whaling History Alliance. Weekly cruise ship programs and fishermen-led walking tours will be offered during the summer months. A variety of public programs including author readings, talks, occupational demonstrations, and performances will be presented.

Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT.

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