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Farmington Museum will use money to enhance programming

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FARMINGTON — Two Farmington nonprofit organizations received $15,000 in federal stimulus grant funds administered through the New Mexico Humanities Council, part of more than $370,000 distributed to 56 groups across the state to help them deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The Farmington Museum Foundation and the Farmington Public Library Foundation were the two local recipients. Each organization received $7,500, the maximum amount.

Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey said some of the organizations that have received grants will use the money to cover operating costs during the pandemic. But he said his museum will use the money for another purpose.

"I particularly targeted this toward augmenting our programming since we haven't been able to hire a curator back since Jeffrey Richardson was here," he said.

Richardson was the museum's curator from 2015 to 2019 before leaving last summer to take a job in his home state of Georgia. He scheduled speakers and organized other special events at the museum that regularly drew large crowds.

Especially popular was his "Curator's Choice Lecture Series. It examined many of the myths of the Old West. Wilsey said the grant money will allow the museum to begin offering that kind of programming again.

"We're going to have all kinds of speakers to talk about whatever exhibit we have on display," he said, noting the programming also could include speakers and short films on Farmington's history.

The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park has been closed since the COVID-19 shutdown went into effect in March.

Its two current exhibitions — "Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame" and "Inside Out: An Exhibition of Women's Status and Roles in American Society as Reflected in Fashion from Foundation to Silhouette" — were open to audiences for only a few weeks before the facility shut its doors.

Both shows are large, traveling exhibitions that were expected to draw lots of visitors, so their off-limits status for the past three months has been a disappointment to Wilsey and his staff. He said he hopes the museum is able to reopen before the "Gridiron Glory" exhibition closes on Aug. 30, as the show already is booked for its next stop in Las Vegas, Nevada, after that and there is no chance of extending its run here.

But the news is better in regard to "Inside Out," he said.

"The institution that had it (booked) after us bowed out," he said, adding that the Farmington Museum has reached an agreement to extend the run of the show from its original closing date on July 12 through the end of October.

The exhibition covers 150 years of women's fashion and takes up 3,500 to 4,000 square feet of space. Wilsey described it as a dynamite show and said he hopes he can use some of the recently-acquired grant funding to augment its presence.

"Hopefully, we can put together some great programming for it by (the end of October)," he said.

During the closure, Wilsey said the museum staff has been catching up on overdue maintenance, strategizing about future exhibitions and eliminating a backlog of collections processing paperwork.

He said the museum industry as a whole is being forced to re-examine the nature of exhibitions these days, especially those that feature an interactive element, because of the pandemic.

As an example, he cited the "Gridiron Glory" show, which features football helmets and shoulder pads that visitors can try on, as well as numerous touch screens with video displays.

"There is a lot of talk in the museum world about how exhibits could change, might change and are changing," he said. "There are going to be a lot more touchless systems."

Wilsey sighed as he considered the changes that would require to many of the shows that are tailored for facilities like his, especially given the popularity of those interactive elements.

"I know we're going to be going back to the drawing board to figure some of those issues out," he said.

The library foundation will use its $7,500 grant for downloadable ebooks and audiobooks. The library reports it sees approximately 250 to 300 downloads per day.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.

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