The Museum of Boulder, formerly operating as The Boulder History Museum, has consistently showcased the events, people and monumental moments of the Front Range’s past with exhibits that engage, inspire and spark insightful dialogue.
On Sunday — after being shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic for months — the museum that sits in the former Masonic Lodge, at 2205 Broadway, will open its doors and welcome masked visitors in to view the new offerings — one of which, titled “Since March,” shines a light on the events that have rocked folks locally and globally.
“The closure has been hard and opening was something we feared may not be able to happen due to the significant loss of finances,” said Lori Preston, executive director of Museum of Boulder. “We know we are not out of the dark by any means, but bringing others in will help us gradually heal, learn and hope a bit more. We miss watching people respond to artifacts of the past and hearing their conversations and takeaways as they are walking out after visiting.”
Since closing to the public on March 13, staff members have brainstormed ways to creatively commemorate the unprecedented times of 2020.
“It is important to be relevant, to adjust and to capture what we are currently trying to make sense of,” Preston said. “I am super excited for ‘Since March,’ with its variety of stories about what has occurred in the past 115 days.”
Along with fostering engagement virtually on social media platforms, museum staff members called out to the community to share what they were experiencing in regards to COVID-19, the isolation that coincides with it and the racial tension and sorrow that has surfaced following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and others.
“The shift from pandemic to the social unrest, to hopeful resurgence locally, to protests, reflection and choices of how we move forward is critical to capture,” Preston said. “This exhibit has a mix of artifacts, including art and video, too.”
In “Day in the Life” videos, local third-graders describe adjusting to quarantine, dealing with time spent away from friends and the new frontier of homeschooling.
Photos show folks creatively practicing social distancing and visiting loved ones while masked. Video footage captures the quietness and calm of Boulder’s normally bustling streets during stay-at-home orders.
“The exhibit is a space to reflect on what it feels like to be aware of being in history as it happens,” said Amelia Brackett Hogstad, the museum’s exhibitions coordinator and curator for “Since March.” “I hope that visitors are able to take a few moments to reflect on their own stories and experiences of others in the Boulder area, past and present.”
There is insight from those who are dealing with furloughs and healthcare workers whose shifts have become even more grueling. While feelings of grief and fear can be found in the collection, there is also an overwhelming sense of resilience and unity found in the varied materials.
“The majority of the photographs, emails and art had an upbeat perspective and emphasized perseverance and optimism,” Hogstad said.
Visitors have the opportunity to share more stories in the exhibit by submitting digital or physical materials to Hogstad or by writing down their thoughts and stories and posting them in the gallery. Ongoing submissions will be added to the gallery throughout the summer.
“These stories can be anonymous and can include the names of loved ones who have suffered from or died from the virus, or simply the expression of a negative or complicated emotion, in addition to stories of adaptation and hope,” Hogstad said.
Visitors can get a closer look at articles of personal protective equipment worn by healthcare personnel.
“Amelia (Brackett Hogstad) has stayed tied closely to a person in our community whose family member has COVID, and she has dialogued along the way, capturing the many emotions — sometimes heavy and sad,” Preston said. “And, in contrast, she captured stories of youth in Boulder County who created a petition so that they could have a place to ride their bicycles on dirt mounds for something to do outdoors. There’s such a crazy mix.”
Given the sensitive nature and ever-changing state of the unspecified family member who is battling COVID-19, nothing about this person is currently included in the exhibit, but could be added later on.
Aside from pieces that are linked to the global health crisis, visitors can take in the powerful portrait sketches by artist Beau Sam who used to reside in Boulder, but now calls New York home.
Sam has commemorated people of color who have been unjustly killed with uncanny ink drawings — capturing the likeness of individuals whose names have recently made headlines. Detailed depictions of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau are among the works on display.
“His story of how he chose to get to know each of them by drawing stroke by stroke is amazing,” Preston said.
Visitors can also view the oversized N95 face mask sculpture constructed by Mitch Levin as a homage to the frontline and essential workers. The 30-by-24-inch piece, made from washing machine panels, was initially installed in Boulder Community Health.
“Another new Boulderite, Rick Dallago captured the signs of some of Boulder’s homeless to create a vivid collage during the lockdown,” Preston said.
Dallago’s work artfully shines a light on a community that is often overlooked, even more so with the pandemic. His pieces also point to the economic instability and uncertainty brought on by recent events.
Engage, explore, excel
Museum of Boulder is committed to keeping its younger visitors entertained and with the reopening of the physical museum, staff has added a number of pockets conducive to exploration.
“Playzeum’s focus is on the littles, yet we are confident that all ages will be impressed with this exhibit,” Preston said. “It has always been the intention of the museum to offer a dedicated children’s space.”
“Curiosity Cabinets,” found in the lower level gallery, allows kids to discover objects from the museum’s varied collection. A sensory wall, a jump room and an infinity mirror add to the diverse experience. Plenty of hands-on activities will allow much-welcomed participation.
“Our capital campaign was short $2 million to make a dream design from the exhibits team of Denver Children’s Museum come to fruition,” Preston said, “so our own creative team members collaborated with people in the Boulder community to design and implement eight different ‘salons’ and experiences.”
One of Preston’s favorite new additions is the Rainbow Music Forest, enhanced by the always-vibrant work of Boulder-based artist Phil Lewis. Children can make music just by touching the specific colors within the installation. Ladies Fancywork Society — a group of Denver-based creatives known for crafting zany, large-scale yarn works — is crocheting a canopy for the unique space.
People try out the musical hexagons for the Museum of Boulder’s Playzeum’s musical jumping room designed by Jiffer Harriman.”We hope to create problem-solving situations where children will want to dig a little deeper and ask questions,” Preston said. “We have significant sanitation practices in place as well as the ability to rotate out objects for in-depth cleaning, which we hope will provide parents and caretakers with comfort to allow the children to touch and manipulate.”
The museum’s new hours will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m Sundays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays and noon-8 p.m. Fridays.
“This is an extraordinary time in history,” Preston said. “Generations late, we are going to look back and ask ourselves if we have done enough. We feel it is our responsibility as one of the main capturers of Boulder’s history to do our very best to highlight our resilience and, too, to talk about how we hit pause in some ways, recognizing even more the power and value of family, community, art and the stories.”
Visitors are required to wear a mask at all times, stay within six feet of individuals not in their party and use finger cots when interacting with the hands-on displays. Children under age 2 and members are free. Seniors, those under 18 and college students pay $8 for entrance and adults pay $10.
“We will remember the rallying of businesses and restaurants to think out of the box to recovery and we will forever be grateful for those in our medical facilities who have been there for those who have suffered,” Preston said. “My hope is that a lesson learned will be noting the collective power we can have in taking action and approaching things better than we have before.”