Handmade signs, pieces of art, balloons and flowers — the fence surrounding the King Soopers on Table Mesa Drive in Boulder began filling up in the days after the mass shooting at the grocery store that claimed 10 lives.
Since then, it’s flourished, providing a place for the community to gather and a physical barrier between the place where something tragic happened and the rest of the town.
As time moves on, it’s unclear what will become of the memorial that honors those who died March 22 at the south Boulder community grocery store. It could be moved to another location or taken down or made permanent.
But no matter what happens, the Museum of Boulder intends to ensure that the artifacts and the stories behind each sign, card and piece of art are not lost.
For Executive Director Lori Preston, it’s part of the museum’s mission to collect community stories and preserve history.
“Part of our objective is to make sure that (the stories are) inclusive of the times and representative of what we’re moving through in history,” Preston said.
As it begins embarking on the Boulder Strong Project, one it never planned for, the Museum of Boulder has been guided by museums in Orlando and Las Vegas, two other communities that have experienced mass shootings in recent years.
Each community is unique. So is the experience each went through. A concert is much different than nightclub or church, movie theater or grocery store, though all have been the site of shootings in the United States.
But the understanding that each experience isn’t one-size-fits-all hasn’t stopped museum curators across the country from forming their own committee of sorts, according to Pam Schwartz, executive director of the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando.
“If there’s something that we can do with this terrible knowledge that we’ve come to have it’s to make it easier for those in the future who are up against the same thing,” Schwartz said. “There’s a network of us that are dedicated to trying to help if we can.”
The Boulder Strong Project is just beginning, and there’s no clear plan for where it will go. The museum may choose to turn all of the stories and artifacts into an exhibit or it could all simply be held safely in the museum’s permanent collection.
“It’s not our story. It’s the story of our community, and it’s the story of all the families of the victims,” Preston said. “It may never become an exhibit. But what we do want to do is preserve and digitize and be part of the conversation with local authorities.”
And that’s exactly how it should be, according to Schwartz. While Orlando has created annual remembrance exhibits, Schwartz said there’s no pressure for a community to plan anything specific. Boulder has to take time to determine what it has the resources for and what makes the most sense for the community.
Further, at the beginning, collection should be the focus, Schwartz said. It’s hard, important work that requires great focus.
Having objects to memorialize and remember the lives lost is important. It helps make what happened real. Learning about the top hat that Abraham Lincoln wore is much different than seeing it, Schwartz said.
“This is an actual thing that happened to actual people,” she said.
Moving forward, museum staff intend to collect stories, both from people who left something at the memorial and from those directly involved with the shooting. That won’t happen immediately, of course, but it will be an important part of the process.
“Objects are important. But really what makes them so significant is learning the context and the stories behind why this poster or this rock or whatever it is was at the memorial,” Boulder’s Curator of Collections Chelsea Pennington Hahn said.
The preservation process entails keeping the artifacts safe and cleaning and storing them properly. In doing so, the museum hopes to preserve something that will forever be part of Boulder’s story and to be a conduit for healing along the way.
“The memory around this event is being held in a very tangible way by the museum just as it’s being held in so many intangible ways by the community,” Pennington Hahn said.
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