Center of growing change
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
May 12, 2014 | 1064 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joy Veenstra, curator of education and Hassan Najjar, executive director, check out one of the displays about the Civil War at the Museum Center at Five Points. Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES
Joy Veenstra, curator of education and Hassan Najjar, executive director, check out one of the displays about the Civil War at the Museum Center at Five Points. Banner photo, BRIAN GRAVES

Change is an uncomfortable thing for many people.

However, there is a place where change is not only happening, but a vital part of its mission.

The Museum Center at Five Points is entering a new era which holds the promise of making the center a centerpiece of learning and experience for the area.

Many think of the center as just a place where special functions are held, but its future holds so much more.

In existence since 1999, the center is about to take a turn into the future.

Hassan Najjar, executive director of the museum, has been in his position a little more than a year.

“In the last year, we have changed quite a bit,” he said. “What is different is the amount of programming we’re doing and the way the programming relates to the mission of the museum.”

He said the major focus has been to make sure everything ties in to telling the story of the Ocoee region.

“One of the biggest change involves the exhibit space which was one of the major things I heard from the community when I arrived. I heard it had stayed pretty much the same over the years, so we carved out a space for rotating exhibits,” Najjar said. “Every 12 to 15 weeks you hear about a new exhibition here. That’s the drive to get people to keep coming back and see something new. We want people to know that it is changing and there is a reason to come back.”

Najjar said the biggest challenge is to get people to know “it’s not the same museum.”

“We’re doing different things and it’s important to get the younger people involved. It’s like we’re planting cut flowers. They don’t have those roots — citizenship, care for the community, skills and knowing where you’re from,” he said. “We want people to know this is important, it’s relevant and they should be a part of it.”

Joy Veenstra, curator of education, said the center is trying to “bump up the program.”

“We want the public to know we do things and tell them, ‘Hey! Check it out!’,” she said.

Veenstra also said that is a benefit of being a member — a heads-up on what is coming and the chance to attend and participate for free.

“We had 60 people here for Civil War Family Day, and all summer we’re going to have a pinewood derby track in the lobby,” she said.

“Anybody can come in and test their cars or racers and it will culminate in a race day,” she said.

There will also be “an adult version” at a nighttime reception with racing and adult refreshments.

She said it is very important to reach out to the kids.

“I’ve been really passionate about connecting all the people with stories to the people who need to learn the stories,” Veenstra said. “It’s about connecting the older generation with the younger generation.”

She said plans are to have a new field trip program to bring more students to the center in the fall.

“Once we have them hooked and they know what the museum is, I feel like we have a great audience to tell those stories to,” she said.

There will be a film series held outside during the month of July that will feature movies with a race theme in conjunction with the newest exhibit, “In the Dirt: The Fast and Dirty World of Dirt Track Racing” which opens to the public May 30.

“Some of the drivers who are featured will be there for the exhibit and I’m sure they will have some wild stories to tell.” Najjar said.

One of the films in the series will be the family classic “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” starring Dick Van Dyke.

“That’s one of my favorites,” Najjar said.

The series will also include “Wild River” which was filmed near Charleston and the Disney favorite, “The Love Bug” — another of Najjar’s favorites.

“That should be pretty fun being held on the back lawn,” he said. “It will be free for the public and we’re excited about using our back space. I think it’s underutilized.”

There will be a Family Day Camp at the center on June 17.

“It’s for everyone who wants to come,” Veenstra said. “We start in the morning looking at the history of canning. We will then go to the Bradley County Cannery.”

She said everyone would go home with a can of beans.

“An adult can come by themselves, a couple can come, a family can come. It’s evenly priced for anyone who wants to come,” she said.

It will be a special week for kids as the center hosts its annual summer camp for first- through sixth-graders.

“They come in the morning and we have days packed with behind-the-scenes [looks at] the exhibits,” Veenstra said.

She said kids will also experience how historical stories can be told through theater.

“We also want to show how history can be told through art,” she said. “We also look at the objects around us and the stories they tell — specifically about our region.”

Veenstra said there would be fun and games as well as a walking tour.

Najjar said the first museum that made an impact on him was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Being able to walk in there and see Apollo 11. I remember my jaw just dropped, and I’ve had a love for museums ever since,” he said.

The Smithsonian has now made the Museum Center at Five Points an affiliate member which means in the near future the center will have access to artifacts from what is known as “the nation’s attic.”

“This is a field I’m blessed to be in,” Najjar said. “I never knew I’d be in the museum field. It’s great being able to work in a field where things change every 12 to 15 weeks. It’s kind of exciting. And for someone who likes to learn new things, it’s a great job.”

More information about events, exhibits and memberships can be found by visiting the museum center website at or calling 423-339-5745.