Colorado History

Six Ways for History Colorado to Make History While Looking for a New Leader

History Colorado is ready to make some history. The day after the organization announced that University of Colorado prof Patty Limerick would be the new state historian, History Colorado posted an ad (see below) for a new executive director to replace Ed Nichols, who in August announced that he was retiring in the midst of a major shakeup that involved early retirements, buyout offers and layoffs — all pushed by a new board concerned about History Colorado's tough financial situation.

One way to improve History Colorado's financial outlook is to bring more people into the History Colorado Center, the David Tryba-designed building that everyone agrees is stunning...unlike many of the exhibits that have graced the space since it opened in April 2012. But the board and staff aren't waiting for the new director to introduce new ways to get visitors in the door.The Who Knew!? show of interesting artifacts from History Colorado's extensive collections will remain on display through January 24; there's another Tiny Library concert on January 19 — this one featuring Thunder and Rain — and last night, the Colorado Restaurant Association hosted its annual Blue Ribbon reception for state legislators there. Several lawmakers admitted that they hadn't been in the building before, even though History Colorado falls under the Department of Higher Education, and looking up from the atrium at the three floors, they wondered aloud what was upstairs. The easy answer: Not enough, not yet.

But it wouldn't be hard to fill some of that empty spaces that pull from History Colorado's collections as well as industries that are very active in this state and might even drop some dollars on an exhibit.  Here are a half-dozen quick ideas to push the past as History Colorado looks ahead.

6) The History of Colorado Craft Beer
Yes, craft beer makes an appearance in the abysmal, Disneyfied Denver A to Z exhibit (where it's referred to by the oh-so-2005 "microbrew"), but the history of beer in Colorado could fill an entire room. Beer flows through the past and present of this state, where it made an appearance long before Adolph Coors founded the Coors Brewery in 1873. In fact, Denver's first government was formed in a saloon called Apollo Hall, at  1425 Larimer Street. A hundred and fifty years later, there are more than 300 craft breweries in Colorado — all of which would probably be thrilled to participate in an exhibit, and help stock the opening party. Want to interest a new, younger crowd in history? Drink up! 

5) The History of Cannabis in Colorado
Cannabis, too, has a long and storied career in Colorado, where hemp was a going — and growing — concern in the early days. But then the feds — no doubt inspired by the great success of Prohibition — decided to make marijuana illegal in the '30s. Shortly after the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act went into effect on October 1, 1937, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Denver cops arrested Moses Baca for possession and Samuel Caldwell for dealing — and the two Coloradans became the first people to be convicted and jailed for marijuana violations under that act.  Almost eighty years later, Colorado became the first state to allow legal, recreational sales of marijuana. From the Gold Rush to the Green Rush, there's quite a tale to that would attract Colorado consumers and tourists alike.

4) The Sound of Music in Colorado

History Colorado should have jumped at the chance to bring the Colorado Music Hall of Fame into the History Colorado Center; instead, the hall moved from the 1stBank Center to Red Rocks. Still, there's no reason not to play nice with the group, and collaborate on an exhibit that would fill 1200 Broadway with the sights and sounds of music in this state. And History Colorado board members are already exploring the possibility. Just think of the musical performances that would draw the crowds to that stunning atrium space.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun