Fighting for your museum

“Great communities are great because they have great identities, and a community’s identity is captured and preserved by great cultural institutions like museums.”

— Zebulon Miracle

The Museums of Western Colorado (MWC) thanks both The Daily Sentinel for its supportive editorial (July 20) and Ellen Moore for her guest column (July 23), both acknowledging MWC’s value to and potential for the community. These pieces help to open an important community conversation about the museums. 

Years ago, by a 4-to-1 margin, local voters agreed to financially support and help operate a “County museum.” MWC very much appreciates the profound vote of confidence and commitment, and works diligently to fulfill its mission as Mesa County’s museum, your museum.

The effective partnership between Mesa County and MWC has built a nationally-respected museum — one of 12 fully accredited museums in the entire state of Colorado, meaning that MWC meets the industry’s highest standards for excellence in historical preservation and presentation.  MWC is particularly proud of its contributions to our local quality of life; every year:

■ 5,000 students visit MWC for hands-on, experiential learning, providing the vital link between classroom topics and the real world.

■ New paleontological and historical discoveries of global consequence are made that advance the understanding of our world (including last summer’s discovery of an intact Apatosaurus skull, one of only four in the world)

■ Out-of-town visitors to MWC spend $16.2 million annually in Mesa County — more than Peach Fest, Winefest, Tour of the Moon and JUCO combined — to enjoy major exhibitions (like this summer’s Smithsonian Institute’s Titanoboa: Monster Snake exhibition), Dinosaur Day, cowboy poetry, Fall Day on the Farm and so much more.

To be effective in fulfilling its mission and meeting the demands of contemporary visitors, MWC must evolve and improve.  Museum leadership has continuously sought community input.  From this feedback, in 2016, a strategic plan was developed that challenged MWC to “develop the right kind of facilities at the right locations.”

Costly issues involved in maintaining all three MWC locations is forcing us to make hard decisions.  MWC believes that Cross Orchards must be preserved for future generations and we feel a MWC presence in downtown Grand Junction (currently anchored by Museum of the West) is very important and must be maintained.  Fruita — home of Dinosaur Journey — provides an advantageous location for the creation of an exciting educational campus where MWC can bring to life the full and exciting story of this region — from prehistoric to modern — and be a strong magnet for visitors to the Grand Valley.

To move forward with facilities maximization, improved and interactive exhibits, and entertaining-while-teaching programming, MWC requires stable funding. In the years since Mesa County citizens voted to ensure the Museum’s financial security, the county has second-guessed voters’ intent and steadily eroded investment in the museum, endangering your museum, its future and its contributions to our visitor economy. 

The museum board now finds itself weighing options to secure financial future of the museums, including the possibility of going back to Mesa County voters. This would reaffirm the original voter intent and, more importantly, help ensure that your museum serves this community through the 21st Century and beyond. As an institution that takes very seriously its role to capture and preserve the great identity of this community, MWC has few other choices.

Peter Booth is the director of Museums of Western Colorado.


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