Collections Corner: Museums as Community Institutions

Students view the hadrosaur exhibition at the museum in 1954.

February 9, 2018

In the interest of communicating with the community, the Carter County Museum has included a flyer in this week’s Eagle to share our economic and educational impact in 2017. First, we would like to thank our visitors, donors and volunteers for helping us make 2017 a record year. Thanks to you all, we increased our attendance by 28 percent for a total of 4,895 people. Local attendance – visitors from Carter County – rose by 10 percent. Of that number, 3,444 came to the county from elsewhere, either from other areas of Montana or out of state and out of country. International visitors traveled here from Japan, New Zealand, Ecuador, Germany, and Slovenia, among others.

Occasionally, people cannot make the drive to Ekalaka, so we go to them. Our staff has been on the road often, sharing our collections at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference in Canada, advertising amber research in Tucson, Arizona, and collaborating with museum and tourism professionals across the state. We have established partnerships with Montana State Parks, the Eastern Montana Museum Association, Montana Memory Project, and are helping to advertise our partners in the Montana Dinosaur Trail. On an educational level, outreach beyond the museum brought 613 students MAIA: Mobile Science Lab, our hands-on educational trunk. That trunk was born out of our sister relationship with the Museum of the Rockies, a collaboration that continues to grow through paleontological research initiatives and our joint curriculum project “Our Home, Our World” which integrates Montana and our sister state of Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. Overall, our outreach efforts in 2017 enabled us to reach an additional 4,990 people for a grand total of 9,885.

We know we have something special here in Carter County, and I thank you all for sharing that feeling with our visitors. Out of state attendance accounted for 44 percent of our numbers last year, many of whom joined us for the Shindig to experience a bucket list item of digging up a dinosaur – something that is just outside our door. Tourism is often overlooked as a primary industry in southeastern Montana, however, our recent recognition as winner of Event of the Year and the establishment of embarking on a dinosaur adventure in the top ten of visitor attractions in the state, are quickly bringing us onto the map as a destination worth the drive.

Museums in larger cities are seeking to establish themselves as “community anchor institutions” which are nonprofit institutions that remain in one place and become integral to the community on an economic and social level. The CCM is fortunate to have been such an institution since our inception in 1936. We have grown from the Town that Hunts Bones to a museum that integrates all areas of our collection, from the Tooke Bucking Horse legacy featured in our collaborative documentary project and exhibits, to Wyrex the t. rex, the two-headed calf, and the Paleoindian history of the Mill Iron Site. Each of these and more have enabled us to build educational programming and to work extensively with teachers at Ekalaka schools and beyond.

Grant funding from the Montana History Foundation, Red Ants Pants Foundation and Jerry Metcalf Foundation gave us the tools to revitalize our collections preservation and volunteers have helped meet those goals. Now visitors and students can come in and discover insects, plants, and other matter in fossilized amber, rehouse fossil bones, or research first-hand history by reading old copies of the Ekalaka Eagle.

Neil Lewing speaks as Montana Govenor Thomas Meagher at a Geological Meeting last fall.

In 2018, we plan to build on this work and I invite you all to continue this journey with us! This year, we can look forward to the award-winning Dino Shindig on July 28-29, as well as Montana Archaeology Month events in April and our Founder’s Day Celebration that will feature film shorts from Feek’s Vision on March 15 at the Events Center. At the museum, we will continue to introduce new exhibits and refresh familiar displays – be sure to keep an eye on the Natural Habitat Room as it undergoes a redesign to showcase the interaction of wildlife and agriculture in southeast Montana.

Join us to celebrate the unique history of this region, from prehistory to present. Keep an eye on this publication for a regular events calendar and we look forward to seeing you at the museum soon.

Posted in News.