, Special to The Denver Post
BOULDER — As I entered the Museum of Boulder’s signature Boulder Experience Gallery, the first thing I came upon was a small theater alcove with a presentation entitled “Arapaho Roots.” There, visitors choose from videos that tell the story of the first people believed to have lived in Boulder Valley. I was touring the museum with executive director Angelique Espinoza, who also sits on the YWCA Boulder County Board of Directors and is a former Boulder City Council member.
“We decided it wasn’t our place to tell the story of the Arapaho people who wintered in the Boulder Valley before gold-seeking settlers arrived,” Espinoza said. So the museum hired Jordan Dresser, from the Wind River Reservation, as a guest curator to create a multimedia presentation that was written, narrated and animated by Arapaho and other American Indian people. The stories that Dresser and his team gathered, through research and interviews with people on the Wind River Reservation, span from before white settlers arrived, to the conflicts that led to the Sand Creek Massacre, to the tribe’s relocation and the modern challenges its people face.
The display is impressive — a multi-faceted, honest and personal storytelling experience that sets a serious tone for the rest of the museum visit. I’ve driven past this nondescript brick building on Broadway and Pine (originally built in 1949 as the Masonic Lodge) many times and wondered what was inside these walls. My interest grew when signs for the museum appeared recently, after the museum moved here from its previous, and tiny, location in Harbeck House.
For anyone visiting Boulder, the exhibit is a thoughtful, experiential orientation to a new land. It is an appropriately eclectic collection of information and artifacts about the city, as well as hands-on, immersive elements, like the Google Garage maker space, a large-scale cardboard box maze, and interactive displays with massive screens. The exhibit’s guiding question, “How did [Boulder] get to be this way?”
To answer this, museum staff cast a broad net, reaching out to representatives from NASA and the Smithsonian and heads of Boulder’s federal laboratories. They spoke with the Native American Rights Fund, the Boulder County Latino Histories Project, leaders in tech and entrepreneurs. Rocky Flats employees, activists and CU researchers. Olympic athletes and rock ‘n’ roll icons. Ball Aerospace built a custom model of the Kepler Spacecraft, and on the day I visited, an exhibit of Nicaraguan painters filled one of the rooms with bright splashes of shapes, color and forms from the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” as the Central American nation is known.
The museum, Espinoza said, is “designed to allow you to cruise through for the highlights or dive deep.” I’d planned a 30-minute stop, just to get an overview of what’s inside, but I kept getting sucked into various threads. I recommend planning at least two hours to take it all in. By the time I’d walked the basement maze and admired the view from the rooftop, it was much later than I’d planned.
Luckily, downtown Boulder was right outside, with about a thousand happy hour options where I could process some of the things I’d just seen and learned.
If you go
museumofboulder.org, 2205 Broadway, Boulder, 303-449-3464, Admission: Adults $10, seniors and youths (2-17) $8. Closed Tuesdays. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free for everyone Sunday, June 2. Upcoming exhibit: Look for the “Pack it up!” exhibit coming soon, a participatory project for the whole family. The Museum of Boulder is also running a number of interesting summer camps for kids.