Park City Museum executive director celebrates 20 years of history
What: Park City Museum
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday thorugh Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Where: 528 Main St.
Sandra Morrison loves history, especially Park City history, and 20 years and 6 months ago, she landed her dream job — executive director of Park City Museum.
On Morrison’s watch, the nonprofit expanded and broadened its reach.
She oversaw the $9 million renovation and reconstruction of its current building, which sits at 528 Main Street, and she helmed the construction of the new education and collections center at 2079 Sidewinder Drive.
Morrison remembers the museum overhaul she started in 2002.
“We actually started talking about the need for a bigger museum in 2002,” she said. ‘At that time, we only had 1,000 square feet, and during the Winter Olympics, we had more than 25,000 people come visit us in 10 days. There were lines of people wanting to get in.”
At that time, the museum shared a building with a law firm, the Park City Library and a state liquor store.
“The liquor store was in the basement,” Morrison said with a laugh. “The lawyers were upstairs and the library was next door. We couldn’t display very much in such tight quarters, so 90 percent of the objects were in storage.”
After the city approved the renovation, Morrison and her staff hired architects and Seattle-based exhibit designers in 2005.
Throughout that time, the museum embarked on a fundraising journey that started with a $3 million goal.
“As the project grew and generated support from the city, the response from the public and (museum) members grew and we kept getting more money,” Morrison said. “That was good for us because we really wanted to stay on Main Street, because Main Street is the heart of Park City.”
The museum closed in 2007 to move to the second floor of the Main Street Mall, which was located where the Parkite mixed-use building now stands.
During the next two years, Morrison and her board of directors would fly to Seattle to check on what the exhibit designers were building.
“They were creating our permanent exhibits that we have at the museum today,” Morrison said. “They were building them in a huge warehouse, and that was interesting because they would build them and then take them apart so they could transport them to Park City.”
The newly renovated Park City Museum opened in October 2009, just after Morrison’s 10th anniversary as executive director.
The 2009 expansion was about creating an organization that was sustainable, Morrison said.
“The project planned for earned income, so that’s why we now have a museum store, which raises about one third of our annual budget,” she said. “Prior to that, we depended 100 percent on donations from our members, and had to ask people for money constantly.”
The expansion also gave the museum the ability to pull in traveling exhibits.“Traveling exhibits brings people back again and again because they can see something new,” Morrison said.
The next major project of Morrison’s legacy was the construction of the 5,500 square-foot Education and Collections Center annex that opened last November.
The cost for the center came around $2.5 million, Morrison said.
The structure features a two-story, 3,000 square-foot collections space, a large classroom and a work area.
The museum’s current collection, which includes more than 50,000 historic photographs, documents, journals and nearly 140 years’ worth of editions of The Park Record, is stored on movable shelving units, according to Morrison.
Other items in the collection include a number of historic paintings, furniture, clothing and business signs,she said.
The classroom has hosted lectures from museum historians, and the workspace has been used by staff for conservation work on some of the museum’s artifacts.
“History is alive and well in our town,” Morrison said. “People love history, because they love the stories — the heartbreaking ones and successful ones. And the museum is one of the best places to learn about Park City’s history.”
Morrison’s path to becoming the museum’s executive director started in the mid 1980s, when she began working for the Summit County Historical Society under chairwoman Sally Elliott.
Patrick Cone, who was a county commissioner at the time, set aside some money in the county budget to hire a part-time historian.
“I applied for the job and began working for the county part time,” Morrison said.
Cone’s sister, Mary Ann, was the Park City’s Museum’s executive director at the time, and Penny Cunningham, who was then the museum’s board chair, asked Morrison to be a part time board member.
“So I had two part time jobs that was involved with history,” Morrison said with a smile.
When Mary Ann Cone stepped down as executive director, Morrison applied and got the job.
“It was quite the surprise when I realized how long I’ve been here,” she said. “It kind of snuck up on me, but it’s been quite a ride.”
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