The past in living color at History Colorado
I had an opportunity to get a sneak peek at the new History Colorado museum in Denver this week, and I am so excited to share this blog post with you.
I grew up visiting museums, and I really love them, so I’m not completely unbiased when it comes to writing about museums. However, the fact that I have toured so many makes me a pseudo museum expert, and most museums, especially those focusing on history, feel very similar, but I am here to tell you that History Colorado is truly different.
The nuts and bolts
History Colorado has been a labor of love for those who have been involved, from the architect to the volunteers. The 200,000 square foot building at 1200 Broadway is part of what is being called the Denver Cultural Arc, an area that includes the Denver Art Museum, Denver library and more.
I had a chance to tour the museum with the architect, David Tryba of Tryba Architects. A few interesting facts about building materials – the flooring includes bits of recycled beer bottles and the ceilings are constructed using beetle-kill pine. In fact, Colorado materials were used wherever possible in the building of the museum.
Although few will see it, the Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center at History Colorado made me want to research something. It’s a comfortable room with natural light come from the floor to ceiling windows. I think scholars will be pleasantly surprised not to find themselves in the basement, which is the typical location of research libraries.
On our tour we got a behind the scenes look at the archives, which climate controlled, and we got a peek at the 10,000 square foot room that will be used to host large traveling exhibits. This room will likely go into use sometime during 2013.
Something unique to History Colorado are the Time Machines in the atrium that rest on a large floor map created by artist Steven Weitzman. You can move the machines around to various locations on the floor and they tell Colorado stories through video, like the one about Alfred Packard, unfortunately known as the “Colorado Cannibal.”
A storyteller’s approach
History Colorado doesn’t have “permanent exhibits,” instead they have what they are calling “core exhibits,’ that may be periodically updated or altered. The two core exhibit halls opening to the public on Saturday, April 28, are Keota and Colorado Stories.
The museum has taken a story telling approach to educating visitors, and as a storyteller, I immediately connected with this style. This very human approach to history education has the result of vividly demonstrating that we aren’t very different from those in the past, and we still struggle with many of the same problems.
While walking through Keota, I was greeted by four video tour guides who would reappear throughout the exhibit, which is a re-creation of this Colorado town during the early 1900s.
The best part of the Keota exhibit hall, in my opinion, is the interactive yearbook where guests can insert their photo into a video display of a 1918 Keota High School yearbook. This fun interactive part of the exhibit is a poignant example of how much and how little has changed the last century.
Colorado Stories, like Keota, is interactive. Visitors can walk right through Japanese internment camp living quarters in Amache, Colorado and see and feel the way these Japanese had to live during this unfortunate time in this country’s history.
This exhibit hall features stories from communities around Colorado, from one of the state’s first ski slopes to Fort Bent to a blasting station in a “mine exhibit” that is sure to be popular with the boys, both young and old.
In addition to visiting the museum, you can participate in fascinating History Colorado programs that occur all year long. From lectures to week long, guided excursions to historical sites around the state, there’s something for everyone.
It’s impossible for me to tell you everything this museum has to offer, that’s why you need to go and experience it for yourself. The new building opens to the public this Saturday, April 28, 2012. Visit them online today at HistoryColorado.org.