Keeping Local Collections Local in Imperial County
Founded more than 45 years ago as part of Imperial Valley College’s archaeological field school, the Imperial Valley Desert Museum is now an independent museum located in the Yuha Desert. In a new building, which opened in 2012, the museum stewards over 30,000 artifacts from the Imperial Valley and Eastern San Diego County, making the region’s cultural and natural history accessible to the people who inhabit it. Two NEH grants, including a challenge grant that helped the museum establish a $1.04 million endowment, have allowed the museum to protect its collections and create its first exhibition. Ultimately, this endowment provides stable funding for a curator and collections manager, and supports their efforts to “preserve, interpret, and celebrate” the deserts, cultures, and history of Southern California.
“The fact that we are working on an endowment shows county officials that we have an active strategy in place. It has changed our conversations, demonstrating that we aim to be full community partners.”
–Dr. David Breeckner, Executive Director, Imperial Valley Desert Museum
From fossilized whales to artifacts and archaeological sites related to indigenous peoples, the Yuha Desert is rich in natural and cultural history that is still being excavated by archaeologists. According to David Breeckner, executive director, the museum aims to “keep local collections local” by preserving and exhibiting objects recovered from the surrounding region. NEH funding has helped make this possible by supporting the museum’s work with an outside consultant who created an exhibition and preservation plan for the collection. Funding from the challenge grant has already helped the museum fund curatorial work, and contributed to the creation of its first permanent installations, including a diorama of Lake Cahuilla and the “Habitats in Flux” and the “Power of the Land” exhibitions. In the future, NEH funding will support a cultural collections manager who is also an indigenous consultant, able to ensure that local tribes have a voice in the representation of their history.
And though the museum attracts visitors and school groups from San Diego, it primarily serves Imperial County, where one in four residents lives in poverty. The services that the Imperial Valley Desert Museum offers, including supplementary educational opportunities for students and adults, are important opportunities for personal and professional growth in a region that needs them.