Scoop: Small Valley Museums Reopen After Pandemic Pause

Robrt L. PelaMay 5, 2022
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New augmented reality sandbox and fossil relief at River of Time Museum and Exploration Center; photo by Angelina Aragon
New augmented reality sandbox and fossil relief at River of Time Museum and Exploration Center; photo by Angelina Aragon

After pandemic pauses, the Valley’s smaller institutions are reopening.

“When the COVID pandemic happened, we thought we’d be closed for a few weeks,” says Cherie Koss, executive director of the L. Alan Cruikshank River of Time Museum and Exploration Center in Fountain Hills. “When it went on and on, we focused on accomplishing things while we waited to reopen. And we worried about how the pandemic would hurt us in the long run.”

Koss wasn’t alone in her worries. Directors of several small local museums feared a hiatus would damage their budgets and allow the public to forget they were there. Unlike larger museums with access to wider institutional backing, smaller spaces were left to punt during the health crisis.

“I was in the middle of expanding our programs when the COVID pandemic derailed things,” remembers Koss, whose space shut down in March of 2020. She got busy using the time wisely, launching a nearly $100,000 remodel that brought new interactive displays and an updated gallery to the museum, which documents the history of the Lower Verde River Valley. The renovations were funded largely by donations and grants from the community.

The Hall of Flame Fire Museum in Phoenix, which closed for a couple of months in 2020, also used the time to create new displays and do some long-overdue remodeling. “We did miss the public,” says Hall of Flame curator of education (and sometime PHOENIX contributor) M.V. Moorhead. “We started a YouTube channel and posted lots of videos and did stuff we wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise.”

Kathleen Lanford, director of Glendale’s Arizona Doll and Toy Museum, says the pandemic caused an uptick in visitors to her space.

“Usually, business is slow in the summer because folks travel then,” Lanford says. “During the pandemic, people couldn’t travel, and they started looking for things to do around town.” Lanford even kept the museum open in August, when it’s usually shuttered. “I might do that again this year,” she says. “But things are back to being slow.”

Koss, whose museum reopened in March, is more optimistic.

“The pandemic is awful, of course,” she says. “And it was no fun being closed for so long. But I’m not sure how we would have accomplished all this if we’d been open.”

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