2018-11-08 / Front Page

Discovery Deck Opens at Seamen's

By James Merolla


Tara Gnolfo, foreground, and Rebecca Northup look at the new exhibit on the second floor of the Seamen's Church Institute. (Photo by Jen Carter) Tara Gnolfo, foreground, and Rebecca Northup look at the new exhibit on the second floor of the Seamen's Church Institute. (Photo by Jen Carter) There is a new deck on deck at Seamen’s Church Institute. No, not on a ship.

Discovery Deck, opening this week on the eve of Seamen’s annual meeting and its centennial anniversary, is an interactive, educational exhibit showcasing the maritime industry of Newport and Narragansett Bay.

Featured content includes boatbuilding, commercial fishing, aquaculture, commercial shipping, the Navy, scientific research and environmental concerns affecting the bay. There is a block and tackle station, maker space, energy grinder and central AV projector showing vignettes of careers on the bay.

Content partners include 11th Hour Racing, Save the Bay, Phoenix Bulk Carriers, Northeast Marine Pilots, Eating with the Ecosystem, Newport Shipyard and Naval War College Museum, while IYRS and Clean Ocean Access also have exhibits on display.


Rebecca Northup, Tara Gnolfo and Heather Braga finalize the displays that are part of Seamen's Church Institute's educational mission. (Photo by Jen Carter) Rebecca Northup, Tara Gnolfo and Heather Braga finalize the displays that are part of Seamen's Church Institute's educational mission. (Photo by Jen Carter) While the exhibit is open to the public and appeals to all ages, its educational goals are focused on middle school students.

“We want to engage kids in Seamen’s enrichment programming, expose them to careers in Narragansett Bay, and to get them involved in the local maritime community,” said Seamen’s Executive Director Rebecca Northup. “Kids never come down to the waterfront, some of whom live in Newport their whole lives. There is so much potential for careers. It is the fastest growing industry in the state.”

Northup and her new education coordinator on programming and community outreach, Kaeli Dunlap, have met with teachers at Thompson Middle School. “We want to make sure we are not pushing our agenda, but we found gaps in the community that Seamen’s could meet in our traditional mission, adapting to the community, after speaking to a lot of constituents,” Northup said.

The idea to expand their programs to include education for youth resulted from a comprehensive review in Seamen’s mission last January.

“The board of directors realized for some time that Seamen’s mission needed to be brought more in line with the reality of life on the Newport waterfront, so we met with other nonprofit organizations in Newport to see where the gaps in service might exist,” board president Ann C. Souder said. “It became clear that middle school students were not being exposed to maritime education and work options in Newport.

“This process took a year. We formed a Discovery Deck committee chaired by Huw Thomas to design and implement the exhibition with substantial input from Rebecca Northup. We then hired Newport Collaborative Architects to take our ideas and come up with the final design.”

Northup said the idea of a Discovery Deck was hers, but it did not come out of the blue.

“We’d been using the space on our second floor to host temporary exhibits by the Naval War College Museum and individuals for a couple of years and it made sense to put something permanent there that was ours,” she said. “An exhibit about the marine industry makes sense. Serving the maritime community is the heart of what we do and there’s a genuine need to expose youth to careers on the bay and show them all the opportunities for work.”

Seamen’s has always been a place to connect, and the Discovery Deck brings together a variety of marine trades and industries to educate the public and serve as a springboard.

The entire vision has taken 18 months to become a reality.

The content is written for a general public audience. The activities are interactive. For example, there is the block and tackle station, where kids try their hand at three different stations and might pull up a marine mammal. There is also a dress-up station and table for younger kids.

“We have been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and excitement that the Discovery Deck will bring to the waterfront and look forward to welcoming students, families and individuals to our waterfront home on Market Square,” Souder said.

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