A new mini-general store, pioneer's home and blacksmith's shop in the Cortez Cultural Center evoke Montezuma County as it was at the turn of the century.
Executive Director Jeff Weinmeister hopes the exhibit will help visitors remember or re-imagine local history.
“We want them to come in and feel like they are a part of the history of Montezuma County,” he said.
The first phase of the exhibit and consolidated gift shop opens Monday, five months after the center closed to re-examine its focus.
Ancestral Puebloan, Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo pieces are still on display. But the center wants to move away from archaeology because so many local organizations, such as Mesa Verde National Park, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and the Anasazi Heritage Center, already focus on Native American history.
After public meetings to find a model that can help keep the center open, the board decided to focus on telling the story of the area's ranching heritage, a niche that the center could fill, said board president Lee Bergman.
“The effort brought forward, the sustainability of the place wasn't going to be based on archaeology,” Bergman said.
The center has been running a deficit of about $20,000 a year, and it has been making changes in recent months to address that problem and become more relevant, Weinmeister said.
He sees the new exhibits as first steps.
To encourage engagement, the center is asking all visitors to write down the memories or personal stories that the items bring back to them.
Stories from Montezuma County residents will be hung on the wall for summer tourists to read. In the fall, thoughts from tourists will be available for locals to read.
Some items that might bring back memories include a 110-year-old stove and a cash register that were part of a museum in Cortez that started in 1956, said Joyce Lawrence, a board member for the Montezuma County Historical Society.
The society owns many of the items that used to be in the museum housed in the basement of City Hallm and some of those are now on display in the Cultural Center.
The museum's changes were also supported by a consultant paid for by Cultural Heritage and Agritourism Mentor Program through the Colorado Tourism Office.
As the Cultural Center continues to develop, Weinmeister hopes to include more interactive activities and rotating exhibits. The first monthly exhibit will honor women's history.
The center's gallery will now be managed by the Southwest Artists' League, and it will correspond to other exhibits.
“It will keep the art space fresh and relevant to what's happening at the Cultural Center,” Weinmeister said.
As part of the changes, the center plans to charge nominal admission fee to help cover the annual deficit. The center hopes to raise between $3,000 to $4,000 a year from admissions.
Admission is free during March for locals who want to check out the changes.