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Park City Museum to show new style

Visitors to Park City wear backpacks when they hike, bike or ski, and now they can also wear them to the museum. Or, at least, they can sport backpacks when the museum opens sometime next summer.

The Park City Museum, slated to reopen in 2009, is designed as a far more interactive experience than its previous incarnation. Planned exhibits include an interactive map of Park City and a plaster-model mega-mine. But, museum and Historical Society staff, not completely satisfied with the interpretive capacity of these elements, has been hard at work designing materials targeted to children of different grade levels.

Johanna Fassbender, curator of education for the Park City Historical Society, has been aware of backpacks for educational purposes for some time. Recently, however, the backpacks at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts inspired her to attempt to institute a similar program at the Park City Museum.

The aim of most of these backpacks, including the one used at the Museum of Fine Arts, is to equip students with tools that can help them digest the instructive materials in a museum through catering to their intellectual abilities and knowledge. In essence, backpacks can hold coloring books, props, questionnaires andother age-dependent materials that help children grasp the content of a museum’s exhibitions.

Fassbender assembled a small group of former teachers, parents, doctoral students and museum experts to both create an approach and purpose for these packs as well as to decide upon their specific content. Possibly their greatest challenge lies in finding ways to appeal to an audience made mostly of tourists. About 85 percent of the visitors to the museum are tourists with families, said Fassbender. So the backpacks should be designed to reach out to people who have an interest in Park City but little frame of reference.

So far, the focus group has come up with a handful of conclusions. At the very least, the group agrees that activities contained in the pack should take no longer than an hour. The group has also decided that age divisions are essential to success. These may seem like simple conclusions, but it took a fair amount of strategizing by this panel to reach them. "Developing the activities without having the exhibits right there," has been very difficult, said Fassbender. Moving forward has been a challenge as the museum itself is still in the planning phases and her panel has little opportunity to interact with the exhibits.

The group will continue to work on the backpacks over the next year, but the bulk of the work will occur in the next few months. Fassbender plans a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts to study its backpack program and will follow up with another meeting in August. She is also open to any comments that Park City parents may have. For more information, contact the Park City Historical Society at 649-7457.


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