Museums, Exhibitions & GalleriesArctic, Inuit heritage, Indigenous communities

Peary–MacMillan Arctic Museum

Brunswick, Maine
Bowdoin College
Surface area
2980 sq ft / 277 m2
Completion date

In the heart of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, the new exhibitions at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum present artifacts and new media, along with contemporary art and academic current research, telling the stories of Arctic communities from past to present.


HGA Architects, Kubik, Light Factor

Photo — Catherine Forand
All things Arctic

The Arctic Museum has a long history of collecting and disseminating information, as well as engaging dialogue about Arctic issues within the academic community, Indigenous communities and broad audiences.

Named after polar explorers Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan—both Bowdoin College alumni—the Museum is the only institution in the contiguous United States dedicated to the Arctic.

Credits: HGA
A new home

Housed in the Hubbard Hall for more than 50 years, the Museum and its valuable collection of 41,000 objects, photographs and motion pictures were relocated to the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies in the spring of 2023.

The new 46,000 square-foot facility includes exhibit spaces, storage rooms, offices and teaching labs. Designed by HGA Architects, the building is notable for its aesthetic structure—constructed from state-of-the-art and environmentally sustainable mass timber—and its high-end interior conditions to preserve the museum’s collection.

Photo — Catherine Forand
Photo — Catherine Forand
Starting with a story

In 2019, Bowdoin College mandated the GSM team to design and build both the permanent exhibition and its first temporary exhibitions, in close collaboration with HGA.

Adopting an innovative curatorial approach and anticolonial practices, the Museum sought to disrupt the stereotypical narrative of the Arctic as a vast, remote, barren and forbidding wilderness, and to draw attention to the people of the North and how they have thrived for thousands of years. They also aimed to highlight the significant environmental links between the North and South.

Photo — Catherine Forand
Featuring Northern animals

The Museum’s main gallery is a limited space of 940 square feet. Our team was faced with the challenge of displaying a large collection of taxidermied megafauna, including a polar bear, donated to the institution in 1918 by MacMillan. We opted to present them on a mezzanine, taking advantage of the high ceiling and offering visitors a moment of revelation on the upper balcony.

The specimens are bathed in coloured lights that change slowly during the day, reflecting the changing luminosity of the Northern skies and seasons. This effect was created by integrating the light fixtures in a curved rail reflecting the vast horizon of the North. Visitors are immersed in a soft atmosphere inviting them to engage in an intimate encounter with the North and fostering reflection and conversation.

People & Place

Our team’s design approach was inspired by the visually rich landscapes of the Arctic and how they are perceived by the people who live there. Ice, water, changing skies and various forms of geographical relief are conveyed through a pastel palette, modular lighting and curved lines.

The two main display cases showcase the incredible breadth and depth of the museum’s collection. Facing each other, they create a dialogue around their respective themes of Ice and Land. In addition, archival and contemporary photographs highlight the human aspect of the artifacts.

Photo — Catherine Forand
New perspectives

Adjacent to the main gallery, the temporary gallery is a flexible space for exhibitions curated by the in-house curatorial team and guest curators.

GSM designed the inaugural exhibitions: Collections and Recollections, featuring a range of significant objects from the Museum’s collection, and Iñuit Qiñiġaaŋi: Contemporary Inuit Photography, curated by Iñupiat photographer Brian Adams.

Photo — Catherine Forand
A sense of the North

By showcasing heritage artifacts alongside Inuit, Yup’ik and Iñupiat contemporary art, the overall museum narrative is designed to offer visitors in-depth understandings and fresh perspectives on people living in the North — from communities facing issues with colonial history and climate change to people thriving with joy and resilience thanks to knowledge and creativity handed down over generations.

Photo — Catherine Forand
Photo — Catherine Forand
Photo — Catherine Forand


The Bowdoin College curatorial staff mandated the GSM team to design and build a rejuvenated permanent exhibition and the inaugural temporary exhibitions of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, offering new perspectives to the public about past and current Arctic issues.