Vaun Raymond (M.A., 2009) combined his passions for videography and museums by creating the Lake Union Virtual Museum, an endeavor he started as his thesis project for the Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) program. Recently, the Association of King County Historical Organizations awarded Raymond a Technology Award at their annual ceremony that took place at the Museum of History and Industry on April 23.
Raymond’s love of museums stems from when he was about five years old and opened a display in his childhood bedroom.
“I had some ship models in the bedroom and I put up a cardboard sign on a tree that said ‘Ship Museum,’” Raymond said. “My mother invited the neighbors to come in and that was my first museum.”
Raymond grew up working in museums in Massachusetts, like Old Sturbridge Village and Plymouth Plantation, but then he discovered filmmaking. He went to film school at New York University in the early 1980’s.
“I realized how expensive film was, but there was this new thing coming out at the time called VHS, which was really high tech and amazing because it allowed ordinary folks to go out and make movies and compete with what was previously the exclusive territory of big production companies,” Raymond said.
Raymond became an independent, one-man video production company and has been practicing for 30 years now.
“You don’t need millions of dollars and you don’t need huge crews,” Raymond said. “One person with a bicycle, a camcorder, and a computer with an editing system can do that. You can tell compelling stories that are of professional quality and can reach the world.”
And that is exactly what Raymond has done to create the Lake Union Virtual Museum, with his equipment strapped to his back and plenty of miles on his bicycle. At first Raymond thought he would create his web-based museum on the jazz traditions of Seattle, but after speaking to a well-known author who told him about the difficulties of getting intellectual property rights to the music of dead musicians, he quickly changed his mind.
“So I shrugged my shoulders and went to my friend Dick Wagner, who is the founder of the Center for Wooden Boats,” Raymond said. “I asked him if he could create a museum about anything he wanted and it wouldn’t cost him anything, what would he create the museum about.”
His answer: the history of Lake Union. Wagner became Raymond’s first interview, which he did on a sailboat in the middle of the lake for an exhibit about the Center for Wooden Boats. The organization’s online presence has grown alongside the virtual museum’s.
“So I kind of stumbled upon the topic, but I would say I chose Lake Union because it’s here,” Raymond said. “It’s here, it’s big, it’s colorful, and it has stories to be told.”
Raymond has maintained the site beyond the MCDM program and the virtual museum has grown to include 10 exhibits on topics including Gasworks Park, houseboats, and the Lake Union Drydock Company. The most popular video on YouTube has been the exhibit about seaplanes, with more than 86,000 views.
“Other people got excited about it and I started getting traffic on the website,” Raymond said. “I continued to find storytellers in people who live around the lake and people who love the lake.”
Before he knew it, Raymond was applying for grants and has received a total of $10,000 in increments throughout the years to support his project.
“It’s certainly not making me loads of money, but at the very least it is very gratifying to get a grant because it shows that someone really does care about what you’re doing and they value what you’re doing,” Raymond said. “So I’ve continued it because people seem to want it and because it’s fun and exciting.”
Eleven years ago, Raymond attended the Art Institute of Seattle to renew his filmmaking skills and to get up to date with computer technology. While he was attending classes, he decided that he wanted to teach there someday.
“I established a long-term plan to get a master’s and that’s why I went to the UW,” Raymond said. “The degree has really paid off and I feel like I have my dream job now teaching. I’m very thankful to the UW for allowing that to happen.”
Raymond has been teaching at the Art Institute for four years and has been able to get his students involved in his project as well. Two years ago, they helped Raymond with the Shipwrecks of Lake Union exhibit.
What is Raymond’s greatest accomplishment as a videographer? He said it would be the 30-minute video he made for the 100th anniversary of the Port of Seattle. It took a couple of years to make and resulted from a conversation he had with Nancy Blanton from the communications division at the Port, who guest lectured in one of his MCDM classes.
“Ever since I arrived in Seattle, I wanted to do a big documentary on the Port staring out at those big ships coming and going,” Raymond said. “I’ve wanted to tell their story, and again, it was a class at the UW that started that process and made that dream come true.”
While admitting that he is not a web designer and doesn’t know how to write code, Raymond continues to fuse videography and the web, and urges others to be curious.
“To me, it’s like a painter staring at a blank canvas,” he said. “What kind of beauty, meaning, and emotion can we create using the web as a canvas? It’s a fantastic opportunity and I really encourage people to explore it.”