Museum moves into the future to hold onto the past

Public invited to sneak peek Saturday

Moab Museum interim Executive Director Forrest Rodgers, left, and T-I reporter Julia Crane discuss a dinosaur track during an interview at the under renovation museum. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Changes that began at the Moab Museum in 2014 — including its closure for renovations since September of 2018 — have progressed to the point the public can get a sneak peek Saturday ahead of the grand reopening scheduled for April 1.

No fooling.

The museum has been transformed to better fit the needs of future generations, and while many well-loved exhibits remain, modifications have been made to enhance the visitor experience, said interim Executive Director Forrest Rodgers.

Photo by Doug McMurdo

“Museums are like plays. They’re storytelling. A lot of museums focus more on the objects than the story,” said Rodgers.

The overall $800,000 cost of the renovations rounded out to about $300,000, while exhibit design, fabrication, and installation costs were roughly $500,000. Many changes were made to the layout of the building. The “stairway to heaven” staircase that graced the middle of the first floor has been removed in favor of more room.

The old museum’s flavor is being remodeled, as well. Rodgers spoke of the old museum as “typical old Utah and not the Utah of today.” Part of the upgrading process is opening it up and giving people more space to discover the past.

Some exhibits that have been placed on the floor include a topographical map, “Today and Tomorrow, People and Land” storylines, profiles of historical figures that contributed to Moab’s history. The topographical map will be much like the previous one that attracted so many visitors, made out of balsa wood and encompassing much of the space in a room.

The new map will be a permanent attraction, but the actual exhibit will be to provide visitors with the best learning experience.

“We want to have a map to show people, especially traveling visitors, where Moab is in relation to a lot of other things,” said Rodgers. Many of the old exhibits also included paid for props and not actual artifacts. The new exhibits feature more authentic content. “As a result, we’re making the most of our still limited floor space, but it’s now a more inviting place for visitors to learn more about this place we call home,” said Rodgers.

One of the advances the museum moved towards during the transition is the addition of several interactive screens the public can use to further their learning. The screens hold large collections of photographs, along with about 100 oral histories, to help visually tell the story of the region’s history. “They give people a flavor of what life might have been like. People don’t read as much anymore,” said Rodgers.

The public is invited to take a look from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29 — Leap Day. Residents will be able to walk through the museum and preview the content that is now being shown. Staff members will be available to answer any questions the public might have.

“This is a chance for folks to get used to the museum’s different look and feel, and ask any questions they may have about what we’ve done and why we’ve done it,” said Rodgers.

The idea to upgrade the museum started back in 2014, when thoughts formed of a natural history museum built by the river. Former Director John Foster and the board of trustees in place at the time announced a plan of a $60 million, 20,000-square-feet facility. But after consulting experts, the board realized the price tag was likely too high and not exactly what the public even wanted.

Rodgers said in an email, “Interviews with key stakeholders conducted in 2017 indicated that people wanted the museum to stay downtown, develop high-quality contemporary exhibits about Moab’s cultural history and geology, build the board, increase membership, and expand professional staff.”

The changes that are happening now as a result of these preferences from the community were also done to refresh the visitor experience. “We want people to be saying, ‘I learned the answer to questions I never thought to ask,’” said Rodgers.

Crane, a senior at Grand County High School, is a student intern at The Times-Independent.