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 tell...one 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.
3) The Suitcase Museum
Time to unpack another homegrown institution: the suitcase. Samsonite got its start in Denver over a century ago as Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company; today eBags calls the Denver area home. To recognize the contributions of the industry, Denver Cruisers founder Brad Evans has proposed establishing a Suitcase Museum in Denver. Although he'd love to someday have the museum in a stand-alone locale — one designed like a suitcase — History Colorado would be an ideal place for an interim spot. Carry on!
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2) The Rocky Flats Cold War Museum
For more than a decade, former employees of Rocky Flats and people who protested outside the nuclear power plant have collaborated on establishing the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum. But while material is plentiful, fundraising has been slow, and late last year, the museum left its latest home, leaving the concept in limbo. The museum board recently gave some of its collection to the Department of Energy, which might make it part of the visitor's center at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge — if that ever opens. But in the interim, why not have History Colorado give the museum a home at 1200 Broadway, just sixteen miles downwind of where Rocky Flats once produced plutonium triggers for this nation's nuclear arsenal?
1) The Sand Creek Massacre
When the History Colorado Center opened in April 2012, Collision: The Sand Creek Massacre, 1860s-Today was one of the featured exhibits in its Colorado Stories" section. But there was a story behind this particular exhibit: While Colorado Stories was supposed to be about "creating community," Collision created nothing but controversy. That's because tribal representatives of the Northern Arapahoe, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapahoe and Cheyenne of Oklahoma had not been consulted about the exhibit, as required under federal guidelines, and once they found out what History Colorado had in mind, they pointed out problems ranging from factual errors to faulty interpretations to the fact that the exhibit setup was just plain stupid. When their complaints were largely ignored, they asked History Colorado to close the exhibit. It took a year for History Colorado to comply and enter into consultations with tribal reps. Those discussions are still ongoing — and the space devoted to Collision is locked up tight, with no hint of what was once behind the wall. The story of Sand Creek Massacre is a difficult one to tackle, but too important not to share..
That's our sixpack starter set for the new executive director of History Colorado. Want the job? Here are the details: