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Spymaster

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Museum developer Kathleen Hickey Coakley NC'72

Kathleen Hickey Coakley NC'72. By Gary Wayne Gilbert


The $40 million International Spy Museum that Kathleen Coakley designed in Washington, D.C., has drawn roughly one million tourists since opening in July 2002. Located near the nation's greatest public (and free) museums, it is
already ahead of its five-year business plan to become self-sustaining.

Coakley is vice president of exhibition development for the Malrite Corporation of Cleveland, created by communications magnate Milton Maltz to build on lessons learned from his involvement in the launch of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Coakley made her mark in Cleveland in 1985 when she founded the Committee for Public Art to put sculpture in the city's public spaces. An art major in college, she'd worked in the education department of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Coakley designed the spy museum for "the James Bond in all of us." There's a Soviet coat button camera; a nose mold from a CIA disguise kit; a piece of the American Embassy in Moscow "just rife with bugs"--but there are relatively few weapons. "If you get to the point where you need the lipstick gun, your intelligence gathering has failed," she says. Exhibiting the tools of spycraft posed unique challenges. Says Coakley, "Most of this stuff was meant to not call attention. An Enigma machine"--the infamous German World War II encrypter--"looks like an old adding machine." And so the museum offers an abundance of interactive stations, from eavesdropping posts to computer screens "where you get to zoom in on a Chinese airbase like you're the satellite."

Coakley would make a good spy. She has a sharp eye, braking several times on a walk through the museum to scoop a receipt or a ticket stub from the floor. She'll see a mission through to completion, and describes how she once climbed over one of the museum's glass barriers, intent on cleaning the windshield of the James Bond Aston Martin from Goldfinger (she discovered not dust but dings, accumulated in chase scenes). And she is intrepid: When a band of teenage boys escapes from the tourist track into the museum's back hall, she single-handedly marches them back.

Coakley says she and her colleagues are now contemplating their next concept museum--maybe in Washington or Boston--"but if I told you more, I'd have to kill you."

Anna Marie Murphy


Photo: Kathleen Hickey Coakley NC'72. By Gary Wayne Gilbert

 

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