TWO important things happened to turn the Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center into a finalist for the 2023 National Medal for Museum and Library Service – considered America’s highest honor bestowed upon museums and libraries.
The first was the advancement of Dawn DiPrince who now heads History Colorado; the second was the hiring of Eric Carpio, following his departure from Adams State, to be the chief community officer and director of Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center.
Both personnel moves have paid big dividends in shifting the emphasis of History Colorado’s work in the San Luis Valley, which now is to present the Valley and the surrounding Southern Colorado Borderlands through the cultural heritage of the early settlers, the native Hispanos, the indigenous influence, and allow people to see the depth and diversity of Colorado’s oldest territories.
It was exhibits like “Unsilenced: Indigenous Enslavement in Southern Colorado” by artist Chip Thomas that compelled the Institute of Museum and Library Services to list the Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center among 15 finalists for the prestigious award.
And it’s been Carpio’s push to connect the museum with the community that surrounds it through events like Hands-on History day camps and incorporating Valley history into the school curricula.
“I say it all the time, we can’t do this work without the support of leadership and Dawn, of course, is at the top of that list,” Carpio said.
ABOVE: The opening of Merciless Indian Savages, a September 2022 exhibition by renowned multi-disciplinary artist, activist and “disruptor” Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe) included a blessing and performance by the Dineh Tah Navajo Dancers.
TOP PHOTO: Eric Carpio and Dawn Di Prince photos over part of Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center’s “Unsilenced: Indigenous Enlsavement in Southern Colorado” exhibit.
IT’S also important to note, he said, that past Fort Garland Museum directors like Rick Manzanares had the same instincts but didn’t enjoy the same level of support that Carpio now enjoys through the collaborations with History Colorado and the leadership of DiPrince.
For her part, DiPrince has made a concerted effort to invest History Colorado resources – both grant money and staff support – into the Valley. She did so first as chief operating officer and now as executive director of History Colorado.
But it’s her southern Colorado roots, with long ties to La Junta and Pueblo, that has anchored DiPrince’s work in the world of local and community museums and allowed History Colorado to showcase the historical and cultural contributions of the southern end of the state.
“My focus has always been on social and cultural storytelling and the importance that it has in our society,” she told us last July when History Colorado awarded $250,000 for renovation of the historic SPMDTU building in Antonito.
“All of the work that I’ve done since I’ve been with the organization has been to understand the history from the people who live it, the people whose families sacrificed and have given so much.”
“Part of it,” she added, “is we just really know the importance of our state’s history and so much of it is born here in the San Luis Valley, and we want to support it and uncover and share it and be in the community with all this work.”
The transformation of the Fort Garland Museum & Cultural into arguably the best little museum in Colorado is evident through the recognition from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
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