People gather for the dedication of the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies at Bowdoin College. Fred J Field photo courtesy of Bowdoin College


Bowdoin College held a dedication ceremony for its new John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies last week, hoping the new facility will position the school as a worldwide destination for future Arctic researchers, educators and climate specialists. 

The Gibbons Center provides a new home for the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, for both its exhibition space and its environmentally controlled storage, as well as the Arctic Studies Program. The building includes archeology research and teaching labs, a classroom and offices for museum staff.

“The Gibbons have a vision for the museum,” said Bowdoin President Clayton Rose, one spurred by Lile’s family connection to Alaska and their “great love and deep connection to the state and the Arctic.”

Now that that Gibbons Center is open, it joins a constellation of Bowdoin spaces focused on the environment: the Roux Center for the EnvironmentSchiller Coastal Studies Center, and Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island.

“Each stands on its own,” Rose said, “but together there is something very powerful that we can knit together at a really important moment across every discipline, including economics, the sciences, geopolitics, art and culture.”

The building’s namesakes, John and Lile Gibbons, have a long history of supporting Bowdoin.

John Gibbons served as a trustee from 2002 to 2017, twice chairing the board of trustees’ information technology advisory committee. He has also served as planned giving chair, class agent, campaign volunteer, Bowdoin Club president and Alumni Council representative.

He and Lile established the John and Lile Gibbons Arctic Studies Fund to support the Arctic museum and programming, as well as the Gibbons Summer Research Program and Gibbons Family Scholarship — both of which have impacted “hundreds and hundreds of students,” said Rose. They have also contributed to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the Philip H. Soule Memorial Fund, and the Jean and Raymond Troubh Scholarship Fund.

“We’re incredibly lucky that one of the institutions they care deeply about is Bowdoin College, and that their love of the Arctic dovetails with their commitment to Bowdoin,” Trustee Chairperson Scott Perper ’78 said.

Starting in the mid-1880s, Bowdoin students and faculty began to travel north to study the Arctic cultures and environment. The museum wasn’t dedicated until 1967.

In the 1980s, Bowdoin students, faculty and staff resumed going north regularly, conducting anthropological, archeological, and geological research, and reconnecting with the communities visited by Peary and MacMillan, Rose said.

As the museum space aged and outgrew its home in Hubbard Hall, Barry Mills began to speak to John and Lile Gibbons about creating a new start-of-the-art space for it. When Rose stepped in as president of the College, “he never lost sight of how this could be an important macroeconomic, social, and environmental project,” John Gibbons said at the dedication.

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