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Women of the West Museum to Merge With Autry Museum of Western Heritage

New Endowment Creates Curator of Women's History

DENVER, CO - The Colorado-based Women of the West Museum will merge with the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, Los Angeles, effective in April 2002, directors of both museums announced today.

The mission of the Women of the West Museum, founded in Boulder, Colorado in 1991, is to discover, explore, and communicate the continuing role of women in shaping the American West. Its innovative programs include an award-winning Web site, exhibits, and community-based educational programs.

The merger will enable continuation and expansion of these exhibits and programs, as well as support new research. As part of the merger, each museum will contribute $1 million to create an endowed position, Curator of Western Women's History, at the Autry. The Autry Museum will continue several Women of the West exhibits. Four members of the Women of the West Museum board will join the Autry's Board of Trustees.

Jackie Autry, chairman of the Autry Museum's board of directors, remarked, "Gene realized that in order to build for the future, one must have a knowledge and understanding of the past, particularly of the individuals whose contributions helped to build our great nation. Merging with the Women of the West Museum will further our knowledge about the important contributions that women made to the shaping of the American West."

John Gray, CEO of the Autry Museum said, "The Women of the West Museum uses non-traditional and innovative technology such as its award-winning Web site to display its programs and exhibitions that focus on the role of women in Western history. Because our missions are aligned, the merger will expand the study of women's history as a key component to the complete story of the American West."

Marsha Semmel, CEO of the Women of the West Museum, called the merger, "An exciting way to achieve our goals and reach new national audiences." She praised the board of the Women of the West Museum for its commitment to ensuring a solid and sustainable future for the museum.

Tish Winsor, chair of the Women of the West Museum Board of Trustees, said the merger is "an accomplishment the board is celebrating with excitement and enthusiasm. Those of us who will serve on the board of the Autry are thrilled to be continuing in a leadership role. We look forward to the wonderful new opportunities this partnership will bring."

Jane Butcher, past chair, who served on the merger task force led by Winsor, said the Autry met all the criteria the board had defined "and more." The board voted last October to find a merger partner with the following characteristics:
  • National stature and reach, with high standards of educational, curatorial, and/or academic excellence and achievement
  • Commitment to move the museum's mission and vision forward in a timely manner
  • Focus on public audiences
  • Demonstrated financial stability
The task force held conversations with a number of potential partners before choosing the Autry.

The Women of the West Museum Web site at was designated a Yahoo "Pick of the Week" when it was launched in 1999; its excellence is also recognized on Edsitement, the National Endowment for the Humanities' online list of best Internet resources in the humanities. One of the museum's community projects, Querida Madre (Beloved Mother), a mural created by artists working with underserved youth, won a Redevelopment Officials Award of Merit in Housing and Community Development. In 1996, the five living former first Ladies of the United States at that time-Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Roslynn Carter, Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson-became honorary trustees. In 1998, the Museum, previously run by volunteers, hired Marsha L. Semmel as its first director. The museum moved its headquarters to Denver in July 2000.

In the merger plan, the Autry Museum will create its first endowed curatorial position, a new Curator of Western Women's History, to be filled by a nationally recognized authority in the field. The search committee will comprise representatives from both institutions. The Autry Museum also has committed to: maintaining the annual Women of the West Museum Butcher Scholar Award, incorporating into its ongoing programs relevant exhibits from the Women of the West Web site as well as selected educational materials, activities, and traveling exhibitions, and recognizing the achievements and contributions of the Women of the West Museum and its donors permanently in the Autry Museum. Women of the West Museum trustees who will serve on the Autry board are Tish Winsor, chair; Jane Butcher, past chair; Joyce Thurmer, vice chair; and Jerrie Hurd, treasurer.

Some Colorado-specific programs will remain in Colorado. Revealing Our Routes: Women in Boulder County, a history trail program, will be headquartered at the Boulder History Museum. The Women of West Museum is also meeting with community leaders to install permanently the eleven panels of the LoDo Mural Project, about women in Colorado History, in the central Platte Valley.

The Autry Museum of Western Heritage provides rich learning opportunities for all people by exploring the myths and realities of the American West and its diverse populations. The museum enhances our understanding of the present by collecting, preserving, and interpreting objects and art, making connections between people today and those who have shaped the past.

The Autry Museum receives approximately 330,000 visitors annually and each year provides free guided tours and educational activities for more than 40,000 area schoolchildren. It is located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California.

Autry Museum of Western Heritage Mission and Profile

The Autry Museum of Western Heritage is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution devoted to documenting, interpreting, and preserving the history and culture of the American West. Its interpretive agenda is driven by a commitment to: 1) explore ethnic and cultural diversity in the West; 2) illuminate the portrayal of the West through the arts and popular culture; 3) examine the interactions of people with the West's natural environment; and 4) consider the West's significance in the history of the United States and its impact worldwide.

The Autry Museum presents exhibitions and educational opportunities that speak to and serve a broad and diverse constituency and that reflect and include the region's many cultural and ethnic communities. Since opening to the public in November 1988, the Autry has presented over 100 temporary exhibitions, published 20 scholarly books, and produced numerous public programs on the West's many cultural influences. Recently these have included:
  • How the West Was Worn (2001 book and exhibition)
  • Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California (2001 book and symposium)
  • Native Voices at the Autry (ongoing Native American theatre initiative launched in 2000)
  • On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience (2000 exhibition)
  • Western Amerykañski: Polish Poster Art and the Western (1999 book and exhibition)
  • Powerful Images: Portrayals of Native America (1999 book and exhibition)
  • Culture y Cultura: How the U.S-Mexican War Shaped the West (1998 book and exhibition)
  • Patterns of Progress: Quilts in the Machine Age (1997 book and exhibition)
  • Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West (1995 book and exhibition)
Over the next two years, major exhibitions will focus on the history of Jewish communities in the American West, the art and artistry of the Mexican rodeo, the history and influence of California beach culture, and the art of Yellowstone National Park. In 2001, the exhibition On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience traveled to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., drawing over 620,000 visitors during its five-month presentation there. And, as a result of Native Voices at the Autry and the museum's long history of service to the Native American community, the Autry Museum has been awarded the 2002 Humanitarian Award by First Americans in the Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of American Indians in the entertainment industry.

Education is central to the Autry Museum's mission. The institution's Education Division conducts classes and workshops for children, adults, and families, as well as professional development symposia for K-12 teachers. Outreach programs include Community Stories Outreach Kits, highlighting the experiences of eight culturally diverse families with deep roots in the American West. The Education Division also presents scholarly lectures and symposia, artist demonstrations, films, theatrical performances, and concerts and is also responsible for the training and supervision of the museum's 150 volunteer docents. Each year more than 43,000 K-12 students are provided free, docent-guided tours of the museum. Total museum visitation exceeds 300,000 annually.

The museum's collections encompass over 57,000 objects that include fine art, folk art, and various forms of material culture representing the many groups who have been a part of the West's history. The museum's Research Center maintains holdings of rare books and serial titles, periodicals, diaries, maps, photographs, journals, manuscripts, documents, sound recordings, motion pictures, and film posters. The Autry Museum has been accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1993, and in 2000 became an affiliate in the Smithsonian Institution's Affiliations Program.

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