Skip to Main Content

‘Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History’ at the Museum of Boulder

Category: Boulder Blog

Original Post Date: February 17, 2022

Adrian Miller speaking at the Colorado Convening of Leaders

Image: Adrian Miller speaking at the Statewide Convening of Leaders in Colorado's Black History, December 2022

UPDATE: March 2023

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with the Museum of Boulder for an update on their upcoming exhibit, Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History. Co-Project Director and Lead Curator, Adrian Miller, and Advisory Council member, Wendell Pryor, provided a fresh perspective on the significance of this exhibit to the Boulder community (and beyond), as well as what to expect when the exhibit opens on September 29, 2023.

Since our previous blog, the project has moved from the ‘gather and hone’ stage to planning and implementation. In December 2022, the Museum hosted a two-day Statewide Convening of Leaders in Colorado's Black History to discuss key themes, overall goals for the exhibit and specific stories to be shared. “The statewide convening of folks helped us form collaborations across the state, and it enriched the materials and artifacts we’ve already collected,” said Miller. “We’ve started to map out what the exhibit will physically look like, and it’s exciting to see all this work beginning to take shape.”

For Miller and Pryor, it is especially important to have an exhibit that extends beyond the walls of a museum. “This exhibit is a beginning - not an end,” said Pryor. “I see this project triggering more conversations about Colorado’s Black history. We’ve partnered with the Boulder Valley School District to include this exhibit’s story in the classroom curriculum, and it’s so refreshing to see young people engaged in this subject matter.”

The goal for exhibit attendees is to walk away understanding that Colorado’s Black history is Colorado’s history. “There has always been an ebb and flow throughout history of telling Black stories in America, and I think there has been a tendency for people to shy away from that,” said Miller. “We are becoming even more of a multinational society, and it’s relevant to tell the whole story of our history - the good, the bad and the ugly.”

“Black people were very much - and still remain - part of the fabric of Boulder’s history and life and culture,” added Pryor. “In almost every corner of Colorado, there is a deep history of African Americans. Right now, there is a great energy and spirit of collaboration to share these histories with the state.”

When the exhibit opens its doors later this fall, the public is going to learn so much more new information and fresh perspectives about Boulder and Colorado’s history. “We want folks to take what they learn and apply it to their own lives and communities,” said Miller. “People should walk away asking themselves, how can I be a good ancestor to future Black Coloradoans?”

UPDATE: December 2022

Exciting progress is being made on the Museum of Boulder "Proclaiming Colorado's Black History" exhibit. Opening day for the museum exhibit is set for next fall, on Sept. 29, with the exhibit expected to remain open for two years to give area schools time to schedule field trips. Check out a recent update in a Daily Camera article

UPDATE: June 2022

As we honor Juneteenth, the oldest nationally-celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, we reflect on Black history within Colorado. Back in February, we had the privilege of talking to our friends at the Museum of Boulder about an upcoming project that they have in the works for launch in September 2023. Recently, we caught up with them to provide an update on where the project has come to date and where it is going.

As mentioned in the original post (found below), the Museum of Boulder is developing an exhibit centered around sharing Black histories from Black perspectives - Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History. Currently, the Museum is in the ‘gather and hone’ stage of exhibition creation. Since we last updated the blog, exciting developments have occurred as a result of research and community collaboration.

Based on Advisory Council priorities, five thematic research areas have been identified - civil rights/social justice, arts and entertainment, business/entrepreneurship, predominantly Black communities and Afrofuturism. Preliminary research for the exhibit will center around these areas. Additionally, the Museum has made significant progress gathering oral histories, newspaper clippings, dissertations and more to inform exhibit content. 

Racial Equity Training for the Museum of Boulder staff is underway. Supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant, The Museum of Boulder entered into a contract with The Black and The Red Consulting Group (BRCG) to provide internal training and consultation to the Museum of Boulder's Staff and members of the Board of Directors.

Research within the Colorado community has also begun. The Museum has developed collaborations with various partners including History Colorado's Black Heritage Trail Project. If you want to be a part of assisting the Museum, one of the best ways is to spread the word about this powerfully impactful project. The Museum is in need of stories and connections to Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) in particular. Furthermore, the Museum must provide matching funds which help pay for these research efforts, including the outreach related to collecting oral histories, overseen by Minister Glenda Robinson of Boulder, as well as the planning, community curation and installation of the September 2023 exhibit.

The Museum is pleased to announce the first donors towards the match required by IMLS. A twelve-year-old in Boulder attended the October 2021 Announcement Breakfast and was so moved by the project's objectives, that she shared with her grandparents her desire to contribute money that she receives each year from them toward the PCBH project. This demonstration of generational giving was so well received by the grandparents, that they chose to match her donation as well. The Museum is honored that her donation was followed by a commitment from Baird. Baird, founded in 1919 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has provided trusted financial advice and services through changing market cycles and across generations. Baird is committed to inclusion and diversity: “Baird knows that when people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences work together towards common goals, there’s no limit to what we can be accomplished. Baird is committed to inclusion and diversity for their clients, associates and in the communities we share." 

The Museum is very appreciative of the commitment of one of their members of the Board of Directors as well, moving them up to a total of $33,000 raised towards the $250,000 goal. If you choose to donate to this project, please use this link. Any amount is greatly appreciated. 

If you are interested in becoming further involved with the exhibit, the Museum is hiring student research positions and an instructional designer to assist with this project. Considering the historical reputation of museums and their predominant roots in white colonization, the Museum is especially hopeful for the interest of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) candidates for these roles. Working with their collection and curation of exhibits is directly related to the historical record, research, and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). They are working to eradicate systemic racism and creating meaningful change around hiring practices to ensure a more inclusive workforce.

Strategies have been developed to keep the project progressing forward, and we will continue to provide updates to this blog as the exhibit comes to life. In the meantime, the City of Boulder and its partners are honoring Juneteenth in 2022 with flag raising ceremonies, a Celebration of Black Excellence, Youth Art Development Workshops and more. View all events here

Fun Fact: The exhibit’s Project Manager, Adrian Miller, just received his second James Beard Award for his book, Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue. Congratulations, Adrian!

As we come together as a nation during the month of February to celebrate Black History Month, we had the privilege of talking to our friends at the Museum of Boulder about an incredibly exciting project that they have in the works for launch in September 2023. It’s a good reminder that Black history education does not end on February 28, but instead it is an ongoing effort year-round. And it is our pleasure to share a behind the scene look at a brand new exhibit with all of you…

The Museum of Boulder, in partnership with the Boulder County NAACP Chapter and the Boulder Public Library, is developing an exhibit focused on sharing Black histories from Black perspectives. The project - Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History - is a three-year endeavor that began in 2021. Last year, time was spent listening and learning with community outreach; identifying story-holders, collecting oral histories and preparing the museum staff. This year, the focus is on planning and conceptualizing  - the team is honing in on themes, gathering photos and objects and beginning to think about the actual layout and design of the exhibit itself. In September 2023, the exhibit will open to the public in conjunction with school programs and community events, facilitated dialogues and educational programs. 

This incredible opportunity is made possible through the newly awarded Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant. (In 2020, the IMLS awarded $280.6 million through grantmaking, research and policy development, to advance, support and empower America's museums, libraries and related organizations). 

Earlier this month, the Museum of Boulder’s Lori Preston (Executive Director) and Emily Zinn (Director of Education and Co-Project Director) sat down with us to talk more about the exhibit and its significance to Boulder.

Conversations about how to incorporate diverse perspectives into the Museum have been occurring for some time. When the Museum made the move to their downtown location in 2018, a lot of thought went into the National award-winning permanent exhibit - The Boulder Experience - to ensure that Indigenous people were recognized and represented. The Museum collaborated with leaders from the Arapaho Tribe (Wind River Reservation in particular) to make sure the Museum told the story that included the Indigenous perspective.  

In 2019, the Museum and the NAACP of Boulder County started discussions about an exhibit that would showcase the Black experience in Boulder County through interactive programming. Then in February 2020, the Museum began a strategic planning process and looked back at what they had done and what they wanted to do in the future. “We started to ask ourselves, can everyone coming into the Museum see themselves here? And the honest answer was no,” said Lori. “We realized our intent should be looking at underserved populations and helping amplify their voices.”

“In particular, Black American stories have long been under-represented, especially in Boulder,” added Emily.  By March of 2020, every intention that the Museum was moving towards was accelerated with the onset of the pandemic followed by the civil unrest of the nation. With the amplification of Black voices through the BLM movement, the Museum knew it was the right moment in time to help uncover the experiences and tell the stories of Boulder’s Black community. 

The Museum believes this exhibit is especially relevant in Boulder, where the KKK had a strong influence in the early to mid-1920s. One of the goals of the project is to shed light on the inequities that exist in the area through under-represented perspectives. “For many, this exhibit will be challenging and, at times, uncomfortable,” acknowledged Lori. “But through this discomfort, we are able to change and grow towards a more equitable future.” 

The importance of sharing stories of Black communities in Colorado through the medium of a museum exhibit specifically is twofold: institutions matter, and museums provide an immersive and interactive experience not acquired through reading a book or listening to a podcast. “Often, stories are omitted through structured institutions like museums. Black stories need to be shared and reflected in the institutions that have so often silenced them,” said Emily. “Additionally, museums offer a multi-media, physical aspect to storytelling not accessible through other channels. There is something very powerful about making stories dimensional with objects and sound and space.”

The role of museums in relation to their local communities has also continued to evolve, creating even more importance that stories be inclusive of all the voices that share the history of a place. “Exhibits, even in smaller museums, are always shifting. We must constantly ask ourselves if we are catering to a wide audience and telling the whole story,” said Lori. “That is why our 2020 mission and strategic plan prioritizes inclusive histories in order to effect positive change. Our function as a vital community resource center is a responsibility we do not take lightly.”

The exhibit takes a community-centered approach to development. An Independent Advisory Council, guided by leaders in history, research, business and academia (such as Minister Glenda Robinson, Yvette Bowden, Wendell Pryor and Wanda James to name a few), will continue to help direct how the Museum frames the story in addition to community input. “We’re currently in the listening phase of exhibition development. Our goal is to serve as a connector for individuals to share ideas, but our main priority is to hear and understand what people need before we begin actually curating and planning the exhibit later this year,” said Emily. 

Lori recounted a recent experience with a group of local 8th graders who were asked to provide feedback on what they would like the exhibit to feel like and include. They were not shy about sharing their ideas. “It’s so important to engage with young people and gather their input,” said Lori. “We gained so many wonderful ideas from them, especially the importance of creating immersive and interactive experiences. Some of the suggestions included a journey through time with music, physical models of Black-owned homes and virtual reality opportunities.”

The other Co-Project Director, Adrian Miller, will primarily manage the research and content direction in collaboration with community partners. Miller is a Colorado social historian with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Stanford University and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law School. Miller has an incredibly prestigious professional career, from serving as special assistant to President Bill Clinton to authoring three books, including Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, which received the 2014 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference and Scholarship. 

Upon launch of the exhibit, this project intends to help the local Boulder community (and also a much broader base) examine attitudes about and acknowledge the experiences of Black people in Colorado. While the Museum acknowledges that it has been far too long that Black voices have been under-represented, the goal is for this exhibit to serve as a launching pad for community dialogue and a basis for community action moving forward. “Dismantling white supremacist structures begins with listening to the perspectives of under-represented groups. That is what this project hopes to begin in Boulder,” said Emily.

Graphic from Museum of Boulder

(Images from the Boulder Historical Society/Museum of Boulder collection at the Carnegie Library for Local History)

If you’re looking to support the project, consider a donation. The Museum of Boulder is required by IMLS to "match" the amount that was awarded for this project over the next three years, with most funding being channeled outside of the Museum to Black Coloradans, researchers, exhibit providers and professional development providers. Any desire to contribute to the match is very much welcomed.  

The exhibit is expected to open in September 2023. We are excited to follow along on their planning process over the next year and a half and share information with all of you. In the meantime, if you’re looking for ways to celebrate Black History Month this month, check out weekly programming at the Dairy Arts Center on Saturdays at 3 pm. Attend “Black Experience in Art,” hosted by the Boulder County NAACP and free of charge. On February 24, attend “Black Voices of Dance” at 7 pm. Hosted by the Boulder Ballet, the evening will highlight the nation’s most vibrant Black choreographic voices.  

In addition to Dairy Arts Center offerings, CU Boulder (in partnership with Boulder County NAACP) is hosting the Fisk Jubilee Singers® on February 27 at 2 pm. The original Jubliee Singers® introduced ‘slave songs’ to the world in 1871 and were essential in the preservation of the American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals. The Fisk Jubilee Singers® continue the tradition of singing the Negro spiritual around the world.

In their ongoing efforts to promote inclusivity and education of all under voiced communities, the Museum is excited to launch Voces Vivas: Stories from the Latino Community in Boulder County, Past and Present on February 26 and running through the end of February 2023.  This exhibit honors the early Boulder County Latino families and their histories to date. The story includes tragedies, celebrations and monumental movements. La comunidad was guided by tradition, faith, and a lust for life. Relying on each other’s generosity to get through the arduous and good times was rooted in tradition. La comunidad survived and thrived con corazon! Learn more here.  

This page will be continuously updated as the Museum of Boulder exhibit progresses. It was last edited March 2023.

Mentioned in this Post: Museum of Boulder

Tagged:   Art

We've been called
the Happiest Place
in the United States