Fort Garland Museum is a finalist for national medal

Courier file photo History Colorado’s Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center is among 15 museum finalists for the 2023 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

DENVER — The Institute of Museum and Library Services announced Tuesday, March 28, that History Colorado’s Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center is among 15 museum finalists for the 2023 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries that demonstrate significant impact in their communities.

Located in the San Luis Valley, Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center is a community museum of History Colorado, and the only institution in Colorado to be selected as a finalist for this award in 2023.

Originally built in 1858, 10 years after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Fort Garland has traditionally allowed visitors to explore life in a nineteenth century military fort by walking the parade grounds and touring five of the original adobe buildings. Recently, Fort Garland has begun a reimagining funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities which gives History Colorado the opportunity to explore the complex and difficult histories of westward expansion and colonization.

“Fort Garland is a beautiful and immersive historic site that has made meaningful strides in just a few years to engage local communities and share histories that are representative of the people who called Colorado home long before it was part of the United States,” said Dawn DiPrince, executive director of History Colorado. “Fort Garland perfectly reflects the work-in-progress at History Colorado and demonstrates how vital authentic history is to people's lives, how museums can use resources to meet community needs, and the patient power of historic reconciliation and healing.”

The dedication of Fort Garland's staff has allowed the museum to better serve the surrounding community, and resulted in the creation of exhibitions and programs that have garnered considerable attention, met community needs, and better represented the rich and diverse history of the San Luis Valley.

Specific examples of Fort Garland’s work include:

  • Unsilenced: Indigenous Enslavement in Southern Colorado by artist Chip Thomas, which explores an often ignored chapter of American History
  • Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute): "Merciless Indian Savages"–an Indigenous exploration of what American Democracy means in Indian Country
  • Leading efforts to incorporate the history of the San Luis Valley into local school district curricula
  • Expanded affordable childcare through Hands-on History day camps hosted by History Colorado
  • The upcoming buffalo soldiers: reVision that unpacks themes of race, land, and the harm unleashed by westward expansion while providing an emotional testament to the difficult choices Buffalo Soldiers faced
  • And holding regular community conversations to create space for community members to be heard, valued, and most importantly, represented by the museum

“As we’ve engaged with community members and organizations, we’ve learned that individuals and families with historic ties to the San Luis Valley haven’t always felt welcome at the museum,” said Eric Carpio, chief community museum officer and director of Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center. “The community felt that Fort Garland has contributed to the erasure or misrepresentation of women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) individuals and communities. Over the past several years, Fort Garland has begun addressing these issues by engaging and co-creating with a wide variety of community members to decenter militarized and settler colonial narratives and tell the countless stories of the San Luis Valley.”

Being named as a finalist for the 2023 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, places Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center amongst the most innovative cultural centers in the nation.

“So many museums and libraries across the country are committed to providing programs that are vital to the health and growth of engaged communities. We are very proud to announce the 30 finalists for this year’s IMLS National Medal,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “These institutions represent the best of what museums and libraries do for their communities.”

To celebrate this honor, History Colorado and IMLS are encouraging Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center community members to share stories, memories, pictures, and videos on social media using the hashtags, #HistoryColorado, #ShareYourStory and #IMLSmedals, and engage with IMLS on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For more information, visit online imls.gov.

National Medal winners will be announced in late May. Representatives from winning institutions will be honored for their extraordinary contributions during an in-person National Medals Ceremony this summer.

The Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center is located at 29477 Highway 159, Fort Garland, and is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.FortGarlandMuseum.org or call 719-379-3512, for more information.