A newly converted red flagstone and concrete building, formerly the Masonic Lodge, punctuates Broadway and Pine Street just north of Pearl. The Museum of Boulder, previously known as the Boulder History Museum, is a state-of-the-art building that opened its museum doors in May 2018 with a storied history that dates back to 1944. The museum has occupied many spaces, including the 1889 Harbeck House on University Hill, and has evolved to become an impressive collection of artifacts. They also host a wide range of programs for the community and deliver unwritten stories to the public.
The non-profit museum takes its educational role in Boulder seriously, creating impressive exhibits expertly curated to be interactive experiences. We spoke with Lori Preston, the Executive Director of the museum, about creating a space that recognizes history through tech-forward installations and exhibits of self-discovery for all ages (see the Google Garage designed for experimental young learners).
“We have become much more of a community hub, a gathering place to have conversations, special events, parties, memorials, and to teach art, dance, and at the same time take away a slice of deeper Boulder history,” shares Lori.
The national award-winning gallery, The Boulder Experience, highlights historical stories from the Indigenous Arapaho leaders, Boulder’s finest educators, athletes, scientists and innovative voices from the youngest generations. The modern, sleek build-out of the exhibit points to the gallery’s impressive approach to education by displaying compelling content in a high-design layout. The second-floor exhibits transform every two months to feature community nonprofits like eTown and recently, a music history display from CU. Coming early December is Returning: Contemporary Works by Arapaho Artists.
A facet of the museum’s mission is to provide inclusive experiences by sharing under-represented voices of the region.
“Emily Zinn, the Director of Education, works closely with Indigenous groups who host a special interactive theater space for visitors. Latino leaders have curated our next major exhibit Voces Vivas, which will be replacing B.E.A.T.: Convivial Machines in the main gallery in February,” shares Lori. “It, too, is a community collaboration of stories, art, history and current experiences of Boulder's LatinX community.”
In 2021, they hosted Japanese Buddhists who hung hundreds of paper cranes that represented Colorado’s Japanese internment camps as well as a Persian Cultural Circle, LatinX Teen Corps handmade shadow boxes, and food and clothing drives by Native Womens Wilderness. The museum's Open Studios collaboration allowed artists who could not show their work elsewhere during the pandemic to express themselves here.
The lower level features the Playzeum, a self-motivated play environment curated to support children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. It is a place of music-making, building, creative exploration, collaboration and entertainment all in one area that was put together from the minds of locals, like Phil Lewis whose custom art wall produces sound upon touch. Admission is free for underserved learners (those who need financial support) via the Dodge Foundation between PK and age 8. Don’t miss a visit to their rooftop event space with stunning views of the Flatiron Mountains, a reminder of the natural beauty that Boulder is built upon.
It takes a community to keep the museum evolving, and the staff has enlisted many Boulderites to help with everything from serving as docents, installing exhibits to enlisting musicians to play during openings. Among the supportive staff and contributors is Susan Glow, who serves on the Board of Directors and helps with the financial strategy through fundraising and planning. She also recognizes the resilience of the museum, especially over the past two years.
“The Museum is here to save, protect and share the history of Boulder,” Susan says. “As a visitor-based organization, COVID has struck us particularly hard and, were it not for our amazing staff, dedicated donors, and hands-on Board, we may not have fared as well as we have. The interruption may have been a formidable 'crack,' but our light is now shining brighter in our community than ever before!”