Pratt Museum reports back on tumultuous year

Making changes and improvements at Homer’s Pratt Museum

The Homer Society of Natural History elected six new board members at its Feb. 6 annual business meeting.

The society serves as the governing body for the Pratt Museum and provides advocacy and funding on the museum’s behalf, according to its website.

The new appointments include Milli Martin, Jennifer Bartolowits, Savana Bradley, Clark Fair, Tim Hatfield and Sue Fallon.

Kris Holderied will remain from the previous board, and Mel Strydom, also a previous board member, is newly elected as vice president.

Martin, who was elected board president, has served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education, borough assembly, and boards and committees including Homer Electric Association, KBBI Public Radio, the parks and recreation commission, the Kenai Peninsula College Advisory Board and on the board for Kachemak Emergency Services. She is a former Pratt board member.

Bartolowits, who was elected treasurer, is a former Pratt employee.

Bradley, who was elected secretary, is originally from Homer and a former Pratt collections manager.

Fair, who was elected director, is a lifetime Alaskan. His family homesteaded in the Soldotna area in the 1960s and he contributes weekly history stories of life on the Kenai Peninsula to the Homer News and Peninsula Clarion.

Hatfield, who was elected director, was born in Homer and graduated from Homer High School in 1996.

Fallon has been in Homer since 1994 and has volunteered at the museum as a school group docent and in the marine gallery.

In the opening letter for the annual Pratt report publication, Relay noted that the Pratt has experienced significant change over the past two years, with Relay starting her role as the executive director in the summer of 2023.

“If I could pick three words to describe the last year, I would say determination, dedication and devotion,” Relay wrote in the letter.

Relay has over 23 years of experience in the museum field, most recently with the Valdez Museum and Historical Archive in Valdez, where she served as the executive director since 2010.

Other changes included the reopening this fall of a small store inside the museum that has been closed for several years.

Due to disruption and change in 2023, Relay reported in the Revenue Highlights of the annual report that museum revenues “were precarious at best.”

The museum report states that organization is looking into sustaining existing grants and into additional funding opportunities with new and previous funders. Additionally, in 2023 the museum worked with a smaller key staff in order to maintain the program of work and reduce payroll expenses.

According the website, there are still two key staff positions open: curator of collections and exhibitions and curator of education and lifelong learning.

Relay also noted in the annual report that the biggest challenge the museum is facing is the continued deterioration of the facilities in general.

“The roof is most noticeable with drip buckets scattered throughout the museum, harming exhibits and winter maintenance of the roof is a health and human safety issue,” the report said.

Relay said that she expects the total cost for complete roof replacement to be approximately $1.3 million.

“Staff first started addressing the roof issue both physically and in securing funding several years ago and it has really come to the point where it absolutely needs resolution,” Relay said in a discussion with the Homer News in her office after the board meeting.

“Physical building maintenance is our top priority right now,” she said. “The museum is starting to look for funding assistance at all levels from the city to state and federal sources.”

The Homer Society of Natural History, Inc. was founded in 1955, before the City of Homer was established in 1964. The Pratt is located at 379 Bartlett Street in Homer and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.