The Museum of Idaho brings humanities, arts, and STEM exhibitions and programming to Idaho Falls and the surrounding region. In addition to telling the story of Eastern Idaho, the museum hosts a variety of traveling exhibitions that appeal to a broad range of interests in a region with few other museums. Unfortunately, the museum is forced to close for as many as three months a year due to safety considerations when installing these exhibitions. In June 2018, with the assistance of an NEH challenge grant, the museum broke ground on an expansion that will almost double its current size and allow its main exhibition and education spaces to remain open while new traveling exhibitions are being installed.
“Having the NEH ‘stamp of approval’ speaks volumes to other grantors… It piques their interest to know that our work is valued at that [national] level.”
The NEH challenge grant was critical to helping the museum raise funding for this expansion, generating significant buy-in from other funders within the community. Though the challenge grant allowed for five years of fundraising, the museum was able to raise the additional $1.5 million in only two. Kim Lee, grant director for the museum, explained that the museum highlighted NEH funding in every grant application and in every appeal to potential donors who were invested in bringing the humanities and the arts to the region. “Having the NEH ‘stamp of approval’ speaks volumes to other grantors,” she said. “It piques their interest to know that our work is valued at that [national] level.”
Currently, the museum welcomes about 93,000 visitors per year, 15,000 of whom are children in school groups. In a state with limited funding for field trips, the museum provides discounted student ticket prices and grants to help bus the students to its location. The ability to remain open throughout the year means that the museum will be able to reach more of these students, as well as the many other community members it serves. Of special note, the expansion will also allow the museum to invest in an Idaho exhibition. The Way Out West (WOW) will become a constantly-evolving permanent installation that will tell the story of Eastern Idaho and its people. WOW is the story of resources and resourcefulness, individualism and collectivism. The exhibition will begin as far back as the Ice Age, with the mammoths that inhabited the region. It will tell the story of the indigenous peoples who lived in the region for thousands of years; the explorations of Lewis and Clark; the experiences of pioneers who traveled west to claim the land for themselves; and, more recently, the story of nuclear energy: the nearby Idaho National Lab was the first in history to use nuclear energy to generate its electricity.