Party Like It’s 2009

This time a year ago, we were crossing fingers that floors would be finished, scaffolds would go away, artifacts would appear and maybe, just maybe, a few people might decide to show up for the New Mexico History Museum’s grand opening on May 23, 2009.

Boy, were we surprised. Not only did the interior look as spit-polish as the exterior, but more than 20,000 people stood in blocks-long lines opening weekend outside …..

4x5 lines outside

… and inside …

4x5 line inside

…waiting for a peek. (Worth noting: Those people who not only stood in the waiting lines but did so as a thunderstorm threatened to drown them.)

Since that auspicious start, we’ve drawn more than 150,000 visitors (more than doubling the attendance of our predecessor, the Palace of the Governors); held a packed schedule of lectures, workshops and performances; played host to the Crown Prince of Spain; and carried home an armload of awards.

In honor of its accomplishments and in gratitude to those who helped make the first year such a success, the Museum of New Mexico Board of Regents voted to open the museum for free May 22 and 23.

“We want to throw a party to say `thank you’ for everything that New Mexicans and out-of-state visitors have done for us,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the museum. “The outpouring of support from visitors, scholars, donors, businesses, and especially our volunteers has carried us beyond our expectations.”

The highlight of the free “Wild Weekend” is the opening of Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton, an original exhibit created with special support from the Academy for the Love of Learning, home of the Seton Legacy Project.

“It took 20 years and the hard work of many dedicated staff members, volunteers and donors to create this wonderful new museum,” said Stuart Ashman, State Cultural Affairs Department Secretary.  “The overwhelming successes that we’ve witnessed during its first year of life are endorsements of these efforts.”

The full weekend schedule:

Saturday, May 22

10 am – 5 pm: Free admission, plus a sneak peek at the new exhibit, Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton, from 12 – 5 pm.

12 – 2 pm: The Wildlife Center in Española displays an assortment of the wild mammals and raptors it has rescued. Palace Courtyard.

Sunday, May 23

10 am – 5 pm: Free admission. Grand opening of Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton. Albert and Ethel Herzstein Changing Exhibitions Gallery.

12 – 4 pm: Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary brings a live wolf to the Palace Courtyard. Special program at 1:30 pm.

2 – 4 pm: Wild at Heart opening reception, hosted by the Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico. Booksigning of Ernest Thompson Seton: The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist with author and guest curator David L. Witt. Palace Courtyard.

Upon opening, the 96,000-square-foot History Museum joined a campus that included:

The Palace of the Governors, the nation’s oldest continuously occupied public building; Fray Angélico Chávez History Library; Palace of the Governors Photo Archives; Palace Press; and Portal Artisans Program. In its last year as a solo museum, the Palace drew 68,454 visitors.

POG exterior from Washington

Major accomplishments of the last year include:

Renovation of the Palace Press, including the addition of a new permanent exhibit recreating famed artist Gustave Baumann’s original printing studio

BaumannStudio_edited-1

Opening the exhibit Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time and hosting a series of lectures on the founding of the city, in honor of its 400th birthday

Comb helmet and breast plate

Moving 3,700 textiles and 10,000 artifacts (including 1,404 pieces of furniture) into new, state-of-the-art collections storage inside the museum

wedding dress 5x4

Acquisition of an 1842 book printed by Padre Antonio José Martínez on the first press in New Mexico, as well as letters written by Billy the Kid to Gov. Lew Wallace

martinez book 300

Winning a $147,000 grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to partner with KNME-TV on development and broadcast of history documentaries

covered wagon

Playing host to His Royal highness Prince Felipe of Spain and his wife, Letizia, during a 400th Anniversary event

prince in ctyd

Publication by the Palace Press of Santa Fe Poet Laureate Valerie Martinez’s book, This Is How It Began, commemorating the 400th anniversary

This Is How it Began

Unveiling the commemorative Bill Mauldin stamp with the US Postal Service

unveiling 5x3

“Visitors tell us time and again that they love what we’re doing – and that they want more,” Levine said. “Our goal is to continue bringing forward even more of the stories that shaped the West, more exhibitions, more lectures, and more ways for people to engage with history and be inspired to explore more of New Mexico.”

Get Into This: Another Award for the Museum

NMHM_Cowboys 4x3

In the months before and after the History Museum opened (May 23, 2009), newspaper readers, radio listeners, TV watchers, Web surfers and billboard hounds were greeted with this message: “History — Get Into It!”

That ad campaign helped produce block-long lines of people patiently waiting to physically get into it on opening weekend and has kept ’em coming back ever since. (Don’t worry: You no longer have to stand in a block-long line … in the rain … to get in.)

media kit 4x3That campaign just won honors from the American Association of Museums, which gave it two first-place awards in its 2009 Museum Publications Design Competition. The first award was for the media kit (at left), basically a folder stuffed with enough information about all the construction that was going on behind the Palace of the Governors to keep reporters and others intrigued. (Many of those materials are still available here, on the Museum of New Mexico Media Center.)

The second first-placer was for the grand-opening’s marketing and public-relations materials. Gathered around the “History – Get Into It” theme, those materials mixed archival photography with modern-day people. (Go here to see the full campaign and, hey, vote for your favorite. Cowboys? Railroads? Hippies?)

Clearly, the “Get Into It” concept worked: More than 20,000 people lined Lincoln Avenue and packed into galleries during last year’s Memorial Day weekend to be part of the grand opening. As the museum’s first anniversary approaches, attendance has surpassed 150,000, more than doubling the annual attendance of the museum’s predecessor, the Palace of the Governors.

“From the beginning, our marketing team believed two things: First, that New Mexico’s history is not dead, boring or in the past; it is alive, fascinating and all around us. And second, that no one could tell the story better than the home team,” said Shelley Thompson, marketing and outreach director of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs’ Museum Resources Division. “Within our department existed the talent, the creative ability, and most important, the passion to do the job better than anyone else. It took a village in every sense, but a special shout-out goes to David Rohr, Natalie Baca, Cheryle Mitchell and Kate Nelson for excellence in publications, design, advertising and public relations.”

In case you’re wondering: AAM is the premier organization for more than 3,000 museums, including art, history, science, military and youth museums, as well as aquariums, zoos, botanical gardens, arboretums, historic sites and science and technology centers. Here’s a full list of winners. Now, get cracking on voting for your favorite “Get Into It” ad by clicking on comments, below.

We’re Number One

True West Magazine has given us the early word that its May edition will name the New Mexico History Museum as the nation’s top Western Museum.

“This is the result of years of hard work by many people,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the museum, which opened on May 23, 2009. “From designing a modern building in a historic setting to developing the exhibits to getting out the word, our staff and volunteers have come through time and again. We are honored by this recognition.”

In his write-up about the museum, Johnny D. Boggs, a Santa Fe author and historian, noted the overflow crowds that filled the museum on its opening weekend: “I hadn’t seen likes like this since I tried to get into a bookstore in Dallas, Texas, where actor Jimmy Stewart was authographing copies of his book of poetry. That was like trying to get into a Dallas Cowboys home playoff game.”

4x5 lines outside

The magazine cites the museum’s large campus, which includes the Palace of the Governors, the nation’s oldest continuously occupied public building; Fray Angélico Chávez History Library; Palace of the Governors Photo Archives; Palace Press; and Native American Artisans Portal Program. Its core exhibit, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now, the magazine says, “is as diverse as the culture, and history, of New Mexico.”

Boggs writes that he admires the 96,000-square-foot building’s architecture, including the 300 handmade arrows that dangle from the ceiling in the core exhibit’s Pueblo Revolt area.

“Special events, kid-friendly activities and changing exhibits kept things hopping throughout 2009,” he writes. “Expect a busy year again at the New Mexico History Museum, and perhaps some more long lines, as 2010 is the year Santa Fe celebrates its 400th anniversary.”

Portal - Parkhurst 4x5Also in the magazine is an article noting 25 kid-friendly museums, and it names the Native American Artisans Portal Program (left) at the Palace of the Governors.

Other museums getting the magazine’s Top-10 Western Museums nod: the Adams Museum & House, Deadwood, S.D.; Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave, Golden, Colo.; Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas; High Desert Museum, Bend, Ore.; Plains Indian Museum, Cody, Wyo.; National Oregon/California Trail Center, Montpelier, Idaho; Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, Kan.; Cripple Creek District Museum, Cripple Creek, Colo.; Rim Country Museum, Payson, Ariz.

“These Western museums are important in preserving and exhibiting history and culture,” says True West Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell. “They keep the Old West alive.”

Boggs, who’s been honored four times with a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, selected the winners for this annual award based on his extensive travels, research and firsthand experiences in visiting Western museums each year.  He analyzed their grand showcases of the American West in 2009—“and they had to be really cool,” says Boggs.