Prompted by concerns from some community members, the Southern Utah News (SUN) is in correspondence with the management and leadership over the Kanab Museum - Museum Director Emily Bentley agreed to an interview, and answered some of the questions that readers have asked the SUN to look into.
Left to right, photos by Ty Gant:
The museum has organized its collection to tell the chronological history of Kanab.
According to Museum Director Emily Bentley, the records room of the Kanab Museum is open for public perusal.
Bentley states the Museum is “open, still in a sort of soft-opening phase since Western Legends, as we get more and more of the collection out and the museum experience organized.” When asked where the museum’s collection rests in the meantime, Bentley replied, “The majority of the collection is on the bottom floor of this building; we also have some storage over at the Heritage House.”
She also reassured community members that, after the major flooding incident that compromised the building’s integrity years ago, the measures taken before and during the resulting renovation there is no longer a risk of a similar incident. “The issues that allowed that flood damage to occur have been dealt with - they identified them and we took care of them … the good news is, most if not all of that renovation has been reimbursed with grant money, and similar grants have paid for expansions to the museum like the new glass cases for the displays.”
On the topic of provenance, donations and lent museum items, Bentley responded, “Utah State Code has a process for declaring and reclaiming donated or borrowed items, so that’s the standard we work under. We have what’s called ‘presumptive ownership,’ meaning unless the documentation is clear on an item, we have the responsibility of caring for it and managing it - what happens if we return an item to someone who comes in and demands an item that has no proof of their ownership, and the next week someone comes in with a receipt proving it’s theirs?”
Per Bentley, part of the process of donating or lending to the museum is the securing of that exact sort of documentation - “We make sure an item fits the scope and scale of the collections - and we explain the process of arranging a loan or gift notification, and we make sure the proper paperwork is in place. Everyone has the receipts - we get a paper copy, we give the donor a paper copy, and we upload it all to the collection management center and our cloud-based collection software … that software manages the inventory here and at the heritage house, our license is via a grant from Utah Collection and Preservation.”
Looking into the records of the museum, the SUN identified potential differences in the modes of record keeping at the museum between the last few years compared to the period closer to the museum’s founding. According to individuals that have donated items in the past, some of the records prior to Bentley’s hiring were anecdotal or simply verbal - one lender to the museum’s collection, who preferred not to be named here, stated “Deanna [Glover, previous Museum Director,] knew every person and every family who gave an heirloom to the museum. She kept track of all of that herself … all we would have to do is ask her to get something back.” Further investigation is necessary to determine whether that mode of lending and returning was consistent across the board, or confined to a few familiar faces. According to interviewees, Glover was integrated enough in the community with reliable enough recall that she was capable of keeping accuracy using a system without necessarily writing such records down, though there are equal numbers who could be summarized with one quote, “She would never gamble like that, she’d have written them down.”
One of the specific roles Emily Bentley played during the renovations and updates to the Museum was to update the city’s status as a Certified Local Government (CLG) with the Utah’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in order for the museum and associated bodies like the Heritage House to qualify for state grants, and part of that process included bringing the museum’s record keeping system up to state standards, as well as synchronizing those records with state records. According to Bentley, that record keeping update was essentially mandatory for acquiring the grant funds and resources that led to the renovations and refurbishments of the museum as it stands now.
The interview with Bentley concluded as the SUN reporter asked her what plans were for the museum going forward. Bentley responded, “Our greatest focus is on preserving the heritage of this community, in keeping with the high standards that come with being a collection in the public trust … our greatest priority is preserving these items so that we can continue to tell these stories.”
As mentioned before, the Kanab Museum is currently undergoing staging and collection updates as the staff continue to bring artifacts out of storage for display, with Bentley stating, “I can’t imagine a time when it will be completely done, because I honestly don’t think we’ll ever stop finding ways to make it better. We’re open to feedback from the community, we invite people to come look through and see what they think. I’m in the unique position of getting to love and care for the entire community, and that matters too much to let this work stop.”
With that interview concluded, the SUN is looking to speak with local municipal leaders and citizens who may have stories to share regarding the Kanab Museum’s operations. It is our intent to look more closely into the storage methods that have been used in the museum’s past, as well as to investigate specific family records of donated heirlooms and experiences with donating or lending to the museum - keep an eye out for related articles in further issues, and any readers with concerns or contributions to make on the topic can contact our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.