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Natural History Museum of Utah to Host Historical Behind the Scenes that Invites Visitors ‘Back to the Basement’

For this landmark 50th year, the Museum looks to the past and to the future – highlighting its heritage with early acquisitions while introducing its commitment to digital asset management


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY, November 5, 2019 — The Natural History Museum of Utah is going back to the past and preparing for the future with its annual Behind the Scenes event happening Nov. 16 and 17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Rio Tinto Center, 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City. With more than 1.6 million objects on display, the public will have the opportunity to examine the artifacts usually kept off limits.  


In honor of the Museum’s 50th anniversary, curators, scientists, collection managers and volunteers will be showcasing some of the oldest and most rarely-seen items, including what is thought to be its first specimen: a musk ox skull and horn collected in 1871 near State Street and North Temple. Other treasures include an impeccable one-hundred-and-twenty-four-year-old wasp from City Creek Canyon.


“It’s exciting to combine one of our most popular events with the celebration of the Museum’s 50th anniversary,” explains Becky Menlove, interim executive director and associate director for visitor experience at the Museum. “What a wonderful opportunity we have to share all the amazing work that has transpired since 1969, when the Museum first opened to the public. Since those early days, many dedicated people have contributed countless hours to make the Museum what it has become today – from relocating University collections, acquiring stunning new collections, presenting incredible programing, creating special exhibitions and engaging in thousands of hours of research.”


Formerly called ‘What’s in the Basement?’, a reference to the Museum’s original location in the basement of the George Thomas Building on the University of Utah campus, the community has always been keen to glimpse ‘behind the curtain’. But the opening of the Rio Tinto Center in 2011, with its expanded galleries and collections, offered significantly more access, and thus Behind the Scenes seemed a fitting rebrand. The two-day event has remained a signature experience that has stood the test of time.


What’s more, the Museum has recently begun a five-year project to evaluate and systemize access to digital assets. NHMU will utilize J. Willard Marriott Library’s Digital Library infrastructure to organize, store, and retrieve our own rich media, providing greater oversight for digital rights and permissions. Through this collaboration, The Museum creates fresh pathways for access to digital information about its collections, as well as documents representative of the Museum’s relationship to the University of Utah community, the region, the State, and the place of the natural world in the cannon of history.


“Our goal is to take what already exists and organize it in a way where future visitors can benefit from all the work that’s already been done since the Museum first opened,” said Robin-Élise Call, digital assets manager at the Museum. “Imagine what a non-analog researcher could do in 100 years. How will they access information? Will it be on computers or on a format not yet imagined? By using best practices to preserve the vast quantity of digital material we create, the Museum will be in a position to expand access through new technologies. This is an exciting time for exploring what our digital world can provide for interactive experiences!”

“This year’s visitors will be treated to a host of special surprises coming out of storage for the 50th anniversary,” said Christy Bills, invertebrate collections manager at the Museum. “Entomology will be sharing a bit of our 50-year history as well as current student work. We’ll also be pulling out some public favorites like the beautiful tropical butterflies, fluffy silk moths and many-legged critters found right here in Utah.”


Take a sneak-peek at a few other surprises that guests can expect to see:


  • The Archaeology lab is excited to share photographs and artifacts from the James H. Gunnerson expedition, published 50 years ago, that examine many of the sites in Range Creek. Staff will also be talking about the on-going research in the area.
  • The work and fieldnotes of Lois Arnow, the first curator of the Garrett Herbarium and author of a field guide of plant along the Central Wasatch front, will be featured by the Herbarium.
  • From the Paleontology collections, guests will be able to examine some Late Jurassic specimens discovered right here in Utah in 1859. Paleontologists also will discuss current efforts to continue excavating specimens from the same this site, with the support of rock-climbing equipment and a helicopter.
  • In Vertebrate-Zoology, some of the earliest and most important research specimens will be on display and guests will be able to watch as Dr Eric Rickart, curator of Vertebrate-Zoology, prepares small mammals to add to the collections.


Behind the Scenes is included with the regular price of admission. For more information, visit:




About the Natural History Museum of Utah

The Natural History Museum of Utah is one of the leading scientific research and cultural institutions in the country. Established in 1963, the Museum’s collections contain over 1.6 million objects and offers innovative exhibitions and educational programs to thousands of residents and visitors each year, including traveling and permanent exhibits, special events and other programs. With an expected attendance of 300,000 visitors a year, the Museum also offers a variety of outreach programs to communities and schools throughout Utah, reaching every school district in the state annually. The Museum has an active science program with more than 30 scientists and 10 field exhibitions each year.