Story by Katie Knowles
Last spring when the temporary public closure of the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising turned from weeks into months, we were presented with a problem. How do we continue to provide our community with opportunities to enjoy the beauty and wonder of textiles? Many museums around the world turned to their digitized collections to create online exhibitions, educational programming, and other moments for connection that we are all craving. But the Avenir Museum’s collection is not yet digitized. What could we do?
Museum and library collaboration
Enter CSU Libraries Dean Karen Estlund and College of Health and Human Science Dean Lise Youngblade with a grant opportunity. In April, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced a special CARES Act competitive grant to assist cultural organizations with responding to the pandemic. Could the library partner with the museum on a project we had in the works? Yes! The museum was already planning an exhibition about our history for the Fall 2020 semester. Still uncertain if we would be able to reopen to the public in the fall, we formed a collaborative team to turn Threads of Our Community: A History of the Avenir Museum from a physical gallery installation into an online exhibition.
The planning and research for this exhibit began back in the spring of 2019 when history graduate student intern Carly Boerrigter conducted preliminary research and recorded interviews with people tied to the museum’s history. Further digging into the archives and additional interviews were conducted into the early months of 2020. As we transitioned to remote work, graduate assistant Courtney Morgan and community volunteer Zoe Volpa continued researching online and transcribing the recorded interviews.
NEH CARES Grant
In late June, we were notified that our project was selected for funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Over the summer, the content for the exhibition was reworked for an online experience. Selections from the museum’s archive were scanned, and detailed information for each item was created following professional library standards for digital archiving. By the end of August, 127 individual items from the museum’s archives were available to the public in the university’s digital repository Mountain Scholar.
Virtual exhibits require a different set of skills and expertise than designing and installing a physical exhibit. Luckily our project team members have this knowledge! The original gallery exhibit plan involved places for visitors to contribute their memories about the museum’s history, and to suggest ideas for future exhibits, programs, and collecting initiatives. The team knew this was an important component to include in the virtual exhibit. After selecting a web exhibit platform that included special functions for visitor participation, the overall look and structure of the site was set up, all of the data and image files that were digitized were added to the website, individual pages were created that combined the curated stories with images from the archives, and pages for the interactive community contributions were prepared. Final edits were made using feedback from the project team and museum volunteers, and then we launched the museum’s first virtual exhibition at the beginning of October.
The Avenir Museum is grateful to have collaborated with CSU Libraries on this project to help us do what we do best – connect people through textiles. This exhibit is all about the community of people who built a collection and a museum filled with apparel and textiles for our university. We hope you enjoy reading the stories we’ve curated from the museum’s archives. And we are calling on you to contribute your own memories of our past and your ideas for what the museum should do next. We will keep updating the website as people contribute memories and ideas, but we need your help to make those pages exciting!