Florida’s Emerald Coast, the stretch of land running from Panama City Beach to the end of the state at Pensacola, is the site of one of the earliest attempts at European settlement in our nation’s history. Before that, Native Americans called this area, with its tall pine trees and white sandy beaches, home. Its story is documented in written records and in its soil, where artifacts and building foundations serve as testament to the generations who have lived there.


Staff outside the Florida State Museum in Pensacola. Front row, L to R: Loni Wellman, Barb Holland, Chuck Meide and Brendan Burke. Back row, L to R: Shannon O’Neil, Dr. Sam Turner and Andrew Thomson.


This rich history served as the backdrop for the 2016 Florida Association of Museums (FAM) Annual Conference in Pensacola, where museum professionals from around the state came together to meet, learn, and network. St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum staff members made the drive down I-10 to the City of Five Flags to share our work and to see the great things our fellow Florida museum professionals are doing for our state.

Several of our Museum’s staff members presented their work at the FAM Conference. One of our largest projects this past year was the development and creation of the Wrecked! exhibit detailing the story of a 1782 British Loyalist shipwreck that our archaeologists spent six years investigating.


Director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) Chuck Meide presented on the shipwreck research behind our Wrecked! exhibit.


Our staff conducted two sessions during the conference detailing the research and museum work that went into the exhibit. The archaeologists shared how their original research revealed this amazing story of evacuation and danger on the ocean. Our conservators explained the challenges of cleaning and protecting the artifacts so we could display them for our visitors. And the Museum’s exhibit team revealed the techniques and strategies that make the Wrecked! exhibit interactive and engaging, sharing the story of these doomed ocean-goers and the people who found their ships hundreds of years later.

Director of Public Relations Shannon O'Neil and Director of Interpretation Paul Zielinski gave a presentation about social media in museums (with help from Star Waters!).

Director of Public Relations Shannon O’Neil and Director of Interpretation Paul Zielinski gave a presentation about social media in museums (with help from Star Waters!).

Our social media team supports our work here by sharing our stories and what we do through our various social media platforms. Their efforts have been important in generating interest and awareness for our exhibits and events. During a conference session, they shared their strategies and lessons they’ve learned with social media teams from other Florida museums so they too can support what they do through social media. Marketing and public relations is a huge part of any organization’s success and our Museum is no different. Museum staff shared their approaches to marketing toward millennials, that elusive generation of young adults who make up the next great segment of museum patronage.

Conferences are also an excellent opportunity to explore the area and, in this case, discover some of the amazing museums and historic sites in Pensacola. Old Christ Church, one of the oldest surviving church buildings in Florida, served as the venue for several events during the conference. Evening events also included stops at the Pensacola Museum of Art, the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum, and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The University of West Florida Historic Trust hosted the conference in Historic Pensacola, where conference attendees walked the historic streets of the city and enjoyed the many structures and museums that make up the site.


Our staff enjoyed a private event at the National Naval Aviation Museum. From left to right: Andrew Thomson, Loni Wellman, Shannon O’Neil, Starr Cox, Paul Zielinski, and Barb Holland.

On the closing evening of the 2016 FAM Conference, our Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming was named as the organization’s new president for a two-year term. At the same ceremony in Old Christ Church, Brenda Swann, Director of the Interpretive Division, was also recognized with the prestigious Museum Excellence Award for her leadership in the development and execution of the Wrecked! exhibit.


Executive Director Kathy A. Fleming, the new president of the Florida Association of Museums, poses with Director of the Interpretive Division Brenda Swann, who won the 2016 Museum Excellence Award.

Staff from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum have returned invigorated with new ideas and the energy of sharing our work with other museum professionals from around our great state.


Paul Zielinski is Director of Interpretation for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. He received his master’s degree in Public History from the University of West Florida and joined the lighthouse family in 2011.