Museum Director Bill Gatewood receives Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Historical Association

Old State House Museum - Monday, May 04, 2020

Over the years, the Old State House Museum staff has seen Bill Gatewood, the museum director, make tremendous strides toward preserving the building and making sure its educational programs, exhibits and collection stay vital and vibrant going into the future. As a result, the staff was pleased to learn that the Arkansas Historical Association (AHA) has recognized him with the Lifetime Achievement Award “for his steadfast stewardship over one of Arkansas’s most important historic sites.”

“Bill is a very forward-thinking person whether it is exhibits or the collection department or education,” said Jo Ellen Maack, the museum’s curator. “He is constantly looking forward. He is constantly thinking, ‘What can we do better?’ ‘What can we expand?’”

According to Maack, since Gatewood became director in 1999, he has generously supported the curatorial team and helped the museum’s collection grow from about 16,000 artifacts to approximately 33,000 artifacts.

For example, the collection of quilts for the “A Piece of My Soul: Quilts by Black Arkansans” exhibit has grown from 85 quilts to more than 200 quilts. This exhibit has been a key element in Gatewood’s vision to broaden the diversity of the museum’s audience.

“Diversifying the Old State House has really been a goal of his to make sure that people like myself are able to come here and see things that are relatable,” said Marie Brown-Bealer, Gatewood’s administrative assistant.

In 1995 when it became evident the structural integrity of the Old State House Museum was not sound, Gatewood was one of the leading voices in the call for making the necessary foundation repairs. His efforts were successful, and over the next three years, major repair work stabilized the building, which was Arkansas’s first state capitol, and unearthed historical artifacts that had been hidden beneath the structure.

Gatewood has played a major role in helping the museum advance into the modern age with digital video collections on YouTube and new interactive technologies in the exhibits. He also created more physical space in the museum for exhibits by consolidating storage and offices to other locations.

“He changed the shape and look of the museum,” said Gail Stephens, the exhibit director. “All of the space is available for exhibits now where they were just storage before.”

To honor his contributions, Rae Ann Fields, director of development, nominated Gatewood for the AHA award. With the support of three AHA trustees (Malon Rice, Susan Young and Bill Shrum), the AHA chose to include Gatewood as an honoree at this year’s conference. Unfortunately, the conference had to be canceled due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the AHA will present the award to Gatewood at next year’s conference in El Dorado.

“The Old State House is arguably the most important building in Arkansas history,” said Mark Christ, past president of the Arkansas Historical Association. “His involvement in its preservation, which involved some pretty huge projects, has ensured that it will last another 150 years. We also found it noteworthy that the Old State House has received nearly 60 awards during his tenure. We thought his overall leadership and stewardship merited recognition.”