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New History Colorado Center refines a state history museum

Courtesy Colorado History Museum

DENVER — When the Colorado History Museum was displaced for a new judicial center in downtown Denver, its board of directors took the opportunity to review the museum’s approach to history.

“We needed to rethink our approach to presenting history, a subject too many people can all too easily neglect,” said Ed Nichols, president and CEO of the museum, which has been rebranded as the History Colorado Center.

“We wanted the History Colorado Center to turn the image many people have of the staid state history museum on its head,” added Kathryn Hill, chief operating office.

The museum surveyed more than 3,000 people to find out what they like in a museum. The research found that they want stories that engage them emotionally — human stories that are exciting, tragic or comic — and they have a strong preference toward a thematic approach instead of chronological.

The new $110 million, 200,000-square-foot History Colorado Center, which has its grand opening April 28 in Denver’s Golden Triangle Museum District, aims to accomplish those goals.

Among the innovative exhibits are:
• A 40-foot-by-60-foot terrazzo tile map of Colorado imbedded into the floor of the museum’s four-story atrium that comes to life with an H.G. Wells-inspired “Time Machine” that visitors push over the map to hit hot spots that reveal video stories

• 132 interlocking LCD screens that create a dynamic media wall with a timeline that scrolls across the screen orienting visitors to Colorado history

• An exhibit about the 1920s dryland farming town of Keota that invites visitors to enroll in the town high school, ride down a dusty road in a Model T, share town news in a homestead kitchen, climb into a hayloft and swap eggs at the general store

• An exhibit that examines eight distinct Colorado communities from the 1300s to the present, where visitors can descend into an 1880s hard-rock mine shaft, take a virtual ski jump in 1915 Steamboat Springs and venture into Bent’s Old Fort in the 1800s.