Utah’s Small Museum Landscape

1.18.2021 (Season 2: Episode 11; 64 minutes) Speak Your Piece Podcast on Buzzsprout. Above photograph is of the Uintah County Heritage Musuem (Vernal, Utah, 2019).

The guests in this Speak Your Piece episode live and work in three dispersed regions of Utah: LeeAnn Denzer from east central Utah (Ashley Valley), Diana Call in the southwest corner (Little Valley) and Jami Van Huss in northeast Utah (Cache Valley). What they have in common is a deep interest in their audiences (you and me), a professional commitment to museum studies, and a love for their subject areas—two based in local history and one in paleontology (study of fossils including dinosaurs fossels). By way of geography and in subject matter, these museum professionals stand as examples of Utah’s very diverse network of small museums (see the below museums lists).

The episode’s guest represent the Uintah County Heritage Museum (LeeAnn), the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site (Diana) and the Hyrum City Museum (Jami). Jami Van Huss, the director of the Hyrum City Museum, served as co-producer of this episode.

This podcast is an insider view of Utah’s small museums. The discussion revolves around the professional work, the responsibilites and the standards museums are to follow. We also discussed Utah’s remarkable statewide organizations that support museums, and how Utah’s small museums have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Altogether our three guests, and everyone mentioned in this episode, are reimagining, reconsidering and challenging themselves, so your next small museum experience will be both more interesting and rewarding.

Utah has hundreds of small to medium sized museums, waiting for you to experience, in person and on-line; in nearly every different stripe and type, including local history, house museums, historical villages, regional art and crafts collections, natural history and science, archeology both pre-historical and historical, military history, Native American, paleontology and more.

In some of these small museums you can experience almost all of these subjects, all in one place. It is as if you are walking through a life-size curio cabinet, where diverse and notable objects have been gathered, in some cases over centuries, by past Utahns who thought such stories and objects, were worthy of your contemporary study and examination.

The world of museum studies, or the discipline of managing, storing, describing, presenting educational materials and interpreting stories and objects (from a tiny fossilized dinosaur bones to a regional cultural landscapes) is now in a whirlwind of change. Those who work in Utah’s small museums have to “hold on to their hats,” so to speak, as they strive to meet the best in professional practices, and address a handful of modern interpretive, ethical, cultural and legal challenges.

Jami Van Huss, (BA (Hon), History, University of Utah and MS in History, Utah State University) loves working at a local history museum because of the opportunities offered her in community history. As the director of the Hyrum City Museum (HCM, Cache County) since 2013, Van Huss has increase the sustainability and capacity of the HCM by establishing collections management procedures, interpretive exhibits and educational programming. Her career path into the musuem field came via some very diverse internships and fellowships. Because of Van Huss’s appreciation and advocacy, regarding Utah’s highly collaborative museum community, we asked her to be co-producer of this Speak Your Peice episode.

LeeAnn Denzer began working for the Uintah County Heritage Museum (UCHM, Vernal, Utah) in 2008 as a part time clerk, tweleve years later, in late 2020 she retired as the museum’s Curator of Exhibits and Education Coordinator. LeeAnn continues to serve the musuem as UCHM’s advisory board president. During the COVID pandemic LeeAnn became a YouTube presenter for UCHM. When she approached the musuem’s parent organization in 2008, she was inquiring about work for family member, instead they ask her to appliy for the job.

Diana Call (B.S, Anthropology, M.S. Archaeology, Utah State University, 2006 & 2015) is the Executive Director of the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site. Diana has worked as a museum professional for the USU Museum of Anthropology (as a student) and for the Ogden Union Station (as an executive assistant and museum manager) before making her way to southern Utah in 2016. Diana has served on the Utah Museums Association Board (also as president), the board of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, and on the Arts to Zion Board, the latter for the promotion of arts and museums in Utah’s Washington County.

Utah’s Museum Support Organizations:  Utah Museum Association (The UMA is committed to building the capacity of all Utah museums to serve their communities), Utah Office of Museum Services (with the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, Utah Department of Heritage & Arts), and Center for Community Heritage (within the organization Utah Humanities)

List of Utah’s Small to Medium Size Museums: UEN (Utah Educational Network) list (some are not so small), Museums and Heritage Areas, Parks & Recreation, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Daughters of Utah Pioneer directory of satellite museums Wikipedia – list of Utah museums

Social Impact of Museums: What are the benefits, to our society and to our respective communities, regarding museums? This is a topic of growing interest both inside and outside the museum field. Do you want to learn more? Go to: Measurement of Museum Social Impact (MOMSI) project.

Do you have a question or comment? Write us at “ask a historian” – askahistorian@utah.gov