Next in our series of behind-the-scenes looks at what makes the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center tick, the roving More to Explore reporter ambushed interviewed Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation and frequent contributor to this blog. Part I of a two-parter.
Curator Katie Bowell (in ball cap) leading an interpretive program at the Lindenmeier overlook, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Photo courtesy City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program
More to Explore: What does a Curator of Cultural Interpretation do?
Katie Bowell: My primary job is to be the liaison between the Museum and the City’s Natural Areas Program, and so I help to interpret the historical and cultural stories of our natural spaces. And I also help bring biology, ecology, and other natural processes into the interpretations we’re doing in our museum. Since I’ve been here I’ve also helped develop a variety of interpretive resources, and I work on the Digital Media team and have a lot of fun with our blog and our website and Facebook. So I get to do a little bit of everything, but the main focus in almost everything that I do is still that intersection between history, culture, nature, and science, how to create interdisciplinary narratives and interpretations. It’s really interesting, I haven’t done anything like this before and when I mention what I do to most people, usually they’re surprised, and then they think it’s really cool.
MtE: What are some of the projects you’ve been working on?
KB: The very first thing that I did when I got here was to work on the Soapstone Prairie project, which had been something that the Museum and the Natural Areas department and the City of Fort Collins had been working on for a couple years before I got here. It’s an incredible shortgrass prairie property, and on it was the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site, one of the largest Folsom-complex sites in all of North America and one of the most diverse in terms of the artifacts found there and the people who lived there. And this is where the Museum-Natural Areas partnership really started, working on the Soapstone project. Mmy first job was to help develop the interpretation up there. So we have interpretive panels, and we have volunteer-led programs that go on all summer long, and in our first summer I think it may have been the most visitors to programs that they had at a natural area—somebody told me that, but I don’t know for sure. And so it’s been very successful. I’ve worked on that, and I worked on the Lindenmeier booklet [recently published by the Museum], and did a whole bunch of interpretations with Natural Areas. We re-did interpretive panels and developed a booklet for Bobcat Ridge Natural Area, focusing on the pioneer and early European history of the property, and interpreted some of the buildings that are still there.
One of the things that I’m really proud of is our blog. I have loved being a contributor to it, and it’s so fun. It’s a great way for me to keep learning too, because along with writing about things that I know, I’ll hear something on the news that I don’t have a background in and half an hour later I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous, and I get to write about it.
I also do training with Natural Areas staff. One of the things that the Museum is very passionate about is that if you’re going to interpret history, if you’re going to interpret people, that you do it with care and consideration, respect for the stories you’re telling and the people they’re about, and with as much accuracy as you possibly can. So we’ve had great cultural training sessions with Natural Areas staff, so now the people out there are not only fabulous interpreters of biology and ecology but are great interpreters of history too. I’ve given a couple of presentations throughout the state on how to do this as well, for Colorado Open Spaces and even the Colorado Preservation Society, so we’ve gone to people who normally interpret nature and said, how can you add history to this?, and we’ve gone to people who interpret history and say, how can you add some nature and biology to this? And so we keep smushing everything together.
Since I’ve started here, the last year and a half, I’ve gotten to learn the history of Colorado and western America. I’ve been really immersed in learning about the native cultures we work with and their histories, and getting really a much broader and more interesting perspective on our experience here in northern Colorado than I would have ever thought about, I think, if I had lived here and just continued to be a biologist. So I love that part of my job is that I get to keep learning all the time.