The existing exhibits focus on the story of the park from the lens of 20th century archeology. Not only has the discipline of archeology changed over the years, but the original exhibits did not include the perspectives of the Native communities for whom this place is sacred. In addition, the current exhibits are not accessible, and cases don’t meet today’s curatorial standards.
Collaborative Exhibit Design
In 2019, Mesa Verde partnered with the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (CU Boulder) to plan for the next century of the Chapin Mesa Museum. Together we are engaging Native communities, archeologists, and other stakeholders in a collaborative design process. The redesigned museum will tell a comprehensive story about Mesa Verde National Park from multiple perspectives.
From the start of this project a primary goal has been to work closely with the Pueblos and Tribes that have a special relationship to Mesa Verde. While the park has responded to Tribal requests to remove certain items from display in the past, we want to set a higher standard for this project. Together we aim to create a museum that is truly welcoming to Native communities and embraces indigenous knowledge.
After an in-depth content development process that created a framework for the new exhibits, we are ready to move into the Schematic Design phase of the project. We hope to have new exhibits ready to install by 2025.
In the summer of 2019, through phone and in-person interviews conducted by Scarlett Engle (PhD Candidate, Anthropology, CU Boulder) and Mikayla Costales (MA 2020, Museum and Field Studies, CU Boulder), tribal community members provided advice on how to structure our collaboration. Following their advice, we began with a large meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico in January 2020 at which tribes determined appropriate representatives to work with Mesa Verde National Park and CU Boulder more directly on the project. In March 2020, these eight tribally selected representatives, renamed the Native Interpretation Working Group, had their first virtual meeting, and have worked closely on the redesign project ever since. Importantly, this group contributes to decision making throughout the process rather than having simply an advisory role. We respect the group members’ expertise and want them to feel their knowledge and contributions are valued as we work together.
Exhibit Design Reference Guide
CU Boulder PhD student Scarlett Engle spent the summer of 2020 talking to tribal community members and museum professionals to put together a guide about culturally appropriate exhibit design. She documented tribal perspectives on everything from colors to building materials to fonts, and how visitors should feel in the exhibit space. The guide was reviewed and approved by the Native Interpretation Working Group and given to the exhibit designers for the museum exhibit project, the park, everyone interviewed, and the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for each tribe. Some topics that the guide goes into detail about include: use colors and building materials from the local area; all senses should be engaged in the exhibit; visitors should feel educated, welcomed, amazed, awakened, and thankful; emphasize that we are still here; each tribes’ language should be incorporated into the exhibits; include contemporary artwork. In short: be inspired by the place, be innovative and creative in how you interpret it, and consult with tribal members often.
Last updated: May 4, 2022