If you go

What: Boulder Experience Gallery's debut

When: Museum of Boulder, 2205 Broadway, Boulder

Where: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $8-$10, free to children under 5 and museum members

More info: museumofboulder.org

In a 2008 New York Times article, writer Florence Williams referred to Boulder as, "25 square miles surrounded by reality." Yogis, tech entrepreneurs, scientists, natural food enthusiasts, artists and inventors have all called this region home.

Now, one permanent exhibit at the Museum of Boulder showcases just how much innovation and change has taken place over the last 160 years. After five years in the making, the Boulder Experience Gallery, a $2 million project, will open to the public on Saturday. Opening day will offer activities from Wild Bear Nature Center, performances from Buntport Theater and an impersonator of photographer Rocky Mountain Joe, among other happenings.

"I want people to come out of here going, 'Wow! I had no idea how rich this community was,'" said Nancy Geyer, executive director and CEO of the Museum of Boulder, who will retire in February after 17 years in her position. "I also want them to come back and share this experience with their family and friends."


Advertisement

A result of consulting with 300 people to craft the space, the Boulder Experience Gallery aims to represent a cross-section of the community and individuals that have shaped Boulder into the vibrant city it is today. Proper nods to the athletes that scale the Flatirons and ski the slopes can be found within homages to Neptune Mountaineering and ski apparel brand Spyder. From video clips of pseudo-spiritual comedian JP Sears, who lovingly mocks the mountain town, to photos and info on Boulder's multiple Nobel Laureates, this exhibit truly covers it all.

A model of the Kepler Spacecraft, built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, is seen hanging from the ceiling in the Boulder Experience Gallery.
A model of the Kepler Spacecraft, built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, is seen hanging from the ceiling in the Boulder Experience Gallery. (Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer)

There's even a photo of the "Box Man," Ibashi-I, who has been contorting on the Pearl Street Mall for decades.

Since Boulder is a town where vegans, omnivores, paleos and gluten-free diners live in harmony, no Boulder Experience Gallery would be complete without a section dedicated to the entrepreneurs of the natural food industry. In this area, visitors will find the actual large cast-iron cauldron that Steve Demos, of WhiteWave Foods, used to cook his tofu, along with the block he used to shape it, then later sell it at farmers markets in the '70s. In 2016, Danone purchased Whitewave Foods for $10 billion.

The Boulder Experience Gallery at the Museum of Boulder opens to the public Saturday.
The Boulder Experience Gallery at the Museum of Boulder opens to the public Saturday. (Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer)

Boulder continues to be a breeding ground for brands with humble origins that evolve into industry giants. Celestial Seasonings started with a pack of self-proclaimed hippies hunting for herbs in the mountains. Now, the brand is recognized globally as a leader in medicinal teas. The burgeoning craft beer scene is also highlighted in this living time capsule, with bottles and cans from Fate, Boulder Beer, Avery, Finkel & Garf and Oasis Brewing lining the wall. There's even a shout-out to edibles, as Colorado was the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2012.

'Complexity to our history'

The dress of the University of Colorado's first female faculty member Mary Rippon, who also was the first woman to ever teach at a state university in America, is proudly displayed. A pair of lace-up women's hiking boots dating back to the late-1800s and authentic patchwork denim bell-bottoms from the late-1960s can also be found, among other treasures of yesteryear.

"It's not all wine and roses," said Geyer. "There's complexity to our history and we offer pieces that reflect that."

With the gold rush in the mid-1800s, pushing Arapaho tribe members off of their land, injustice and violence has also crept into the narrative of this region.

'The Arapaho are still alive today," said Geyer. "We want visitors to know that they are a vibrant community."

With beautifully designed graphics and narration from tribe members, a multi-media theatre experience artfully captures a tale of resilience and strength. Geyer and staff worked with members on Wyoming's The Wind River Reservation, in order to portray this section with accuracy. Visitors will gain insight into Arapaho traditions and customs they may not have been familiar with before.

A component of "The Ascent" section lets visitors simulate on-screen rescues of virtual climbers in a video game-like way. Each simulated rescue participants complete is based on a real one done by Rocky Mountain Rescue Group. Further down, a model of the Kepler Spacecraft, built by Boulder-based Ball Aerospace hangs from the ceiling. The structure was used to track down "Goldilocks Planets" that could potentially sustain life. Between 2009 and 2016, Kepler uncovered more than 3,500 planetary candidates.

"Boulder is a real remarkable city," said Geyer. "We are a small city, but the impact Boulder has made on the world, in so many different areas, is pretty remarkable."

With interaction being a priority, this engaging permanent exhibit gives attendees a chance to voice their concerns. On a certain interactive screen, visitors can actually pose solutions to community-related questions — such as affordable housing — and have them appear on the wall high above the displays. The Museum of Boulder goes one step further by actually sending those responses to City Council to foster dialogue and potential change.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect is a touch screen that shows renderings of what Boulder would look like if certain laws or projects were passed.

It's hard to imagine a Boulder without the iconic Pearl Street Mall — or if instead of a university campus, a prison was built — but this screen will show visitors just what those scenarios would look like. The potential mock-ups will likely make visitors gasp and perhaps reflect on the true magic, Open Space and uniqueness that "The Bubble" provides.

Since the Front Range has always been a hotbed for creatives, one section of the Boulder Experience highlights the musical contributions of an extremely special recording studio. Caribou Ranch, nestled in the Rocky Mountains near Nederland, was a converted barn where producer James William Guercio turned out hit after hit. Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Amy Grant, Carole King, Deep Purple, Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks are just a few of the artists that have laid down tracks at this legendary space. Elton John named his 1974 album "Caribou Ranch" after the mountain dwelling.

Guercio's acoustic guitar, as well as a listening station dispersing songs from albums that were recorded at the famous studio, can be found in this pocket of the exhibit that's alive with the spirit of rock 'n' roll.

In a section of the gallery titled "What's Your Boulder," videos of community members doing what they love will be displayed on a screen. The Museum of Boulder encourages residents to visit its website for a chance to submit their own stories.

"I want people to feel like this is a museum about them," said Geyer. "We see ourselves as a sort of window to the community."

Kalene McCort: 303-473-1107, kmccort@prairiemountainmedia.com.