Inclusivity an important key to revitalizing local museums
The Sentinel’s July 20 editorial, “Museums are doing some soul searching” invites community response.
As a recently retired museum professional and transplant to Grand Junction, I agree that Dinosaur Journey, Cross Orchards Historical site, and the Museum of the West either do or have the potential to provide enhanced cultural and historical relevance to Grand Junction and Fruita. It seems a no-brainer that our historical, cultural, and scientific museums, as well as the Art Center, are essential to the health and prosperity of Grand Junction and environs.
A case in point is the museum where I last worked for 13 years, the Roswell Museum and Art Center. This museum features a re-installed and reinterpreted Indian and Western Collection, Robert Goddard’s rocket experiments, and an extensive modern and contemporary art collection. For Roswell, the museum is one of the economic drivers, a place of inspiration, and a home the community looks to for a variety of public programming and stimulation.
Enter the Museum of the West in Grand Junction, a repository of a number of important historic objects and with multiple stories from multiple points of view that it could tell. With more funding and more research in and beyond Grand Junction, the museum could tell a coherent story through themes that one hears again and again here: the role of agriculture, farming, and ranching; the migration and settling of families from far flung places (with their voices); the role of the land in peoples’ lives, from Indian ceremonial and daily life to the resources our rivers, monuments, valleys, and mountains provide for recreation, economic and spiritual life.
What diverse spiritualities reside in the oral histories here? What kinds of conquest changed the face of the Western Slope and from whose points of view? What kinds of trading took place? What did people celebrate? Some of these themes are addressed in the museum, but with more funding, think how the board and staff could go back to the drawing board and make a museum that speaks to today as well as yesterday—to people and their diverse lives here. The new Ute Museum in Montrose may stimulate ideas.
Cross Orchards is a gem, in need of support and increased programming that includes ongoing occupations in the Grand Valley: weaving, blacksmithing, food and wine production, and so on. Dinosaur Journey is a site of ongoing research and excitement. The Museum of the West needs to step back and re-evaluate the story it wants to tell.
Responding to board member Ed Gardner, the way “into people’s pocketbooks” is by being inclusive — eliciting their input and listening to them. Invite consultants from relevant advisory groups to make suggestions about how their materials, histories, and points of view can be presented.
Find out what they know and what they want to share. Even if you have done this, there is always more to do. Make a commitment to be a site of conversation about what is relevant to our community (e.g. public lands), sometimes an uncomfortable position, but a stimulating one. Offer classes, interactives, and demonstrations. Show the preciousness of the collections and the need to sustain them. And most of all, since the Museum of the West tells primarily Grand Junction history, it should stay in Grand Junction — in the best of all possible worlds, rebuilt, re-designed, and re-interpreted.
Ellen Moore is a former curator of education and holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Arizona State. She moved to Grand Junction in 2014 after retiring from the Roswell Museum and Arts and Center in Roswell, N.M.