When Brittany Newman was first approached about taking over as executive director for the Golden Museum and Archives in 2019, she had no idea she would be tasked with preserving history as it happened when the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded months later.
At the time, she was running the summer camp at the museum and was covering for long-time curator Colleen Palumbo at the fall fair. Newman had been kicking around the museum for 10 years at that point, having first come on board in the summer of 2009 as Kids Camp coordinator for her first real job out of university.
After a year of training alongside Palumbo throughout 2020, the curator stepped into retirement and Newman assumed her new position in April 2021.
“We do our best to tell as much as many of the stories as possible here because Golden is hugely diverse and we have a crazy amount of history here that people wouldn’t imagine that we did,” said Newman.
“We learn a lot from the past and the more we kind of explore it, the more insight we have into the way that people are and why they are, why they are where they are, and why Golden is what it is.”
Palumbo says at the time of her retirement that she felt the museum was being left in good hands with her successor.
The role of the executive director is many-faceted, from curating family trees, helping tourists looking to learn more about the community they’re visiting, to working with the town when the ice flows jam up on the river to help determine the best way to mitigate the problem.
Currently, Newman is working closely with the group trying to preserve the Swiss Village, something she says has helped show the importance of the role of the museum in the community.
She’s also working to preserve the impact of COVID-19 in Golden in the digital age for use in a future exhibit 10, 20 or maybe even 50 years down the line.
So far, she’s collected old Rotary hand sanitizer bottles, masks, Facebook posts and Physician of Golden updates.
“Until you’re really in a position where you’re going to lose something you don’t realize how important community history actually is,” she said.
“Thinking about how in 20 years and 50 years, how are people going to display this?
“How are they going to share this because we’re living through something that is actually going to make it into a history book. It’s been a very surreal experience.”
She says working with the archives, she sees the importance of the museum and preservation, citing a journal entry from almost a century ago that reveals old weather patterns and how the environment in the Golden area has changed.
As for where she sees her position taking her, she says she wants to see the museum continue to foster itself as a community space for everybody to come and learn or share a story, something that started when Palumbo was still the executive director.
Newman says that it reflects a larger shift in the industry since she first came on board in 2009.
“We used to be there simply to be experts in history,” she explained.
“Now, we’re shifting to a place to provide safe civic dialogue.
“We’ve gone from being a museum that has different eras and different rooms to being a museum that actually tells stories that includes our, our community and our storytelling.”
She says another shift she’s noticed is the world of history opening up to being more inclusive and accepting of everyone, regardless of gender, sexual identity, or any other form of identity.
While fieldwork and work on the research level such as professors and studies tend to be more male-dominated historically, Newman says roles like hers have always tended to skew more toward females, but over the last decade she’s seen more balance.
However, being a woman in history doesn’t come without its battles.
“It’s just like a woman in any sort of business, it’s always a struggle when you’re in a room full of especially older generation men to make sure that your voice is being heard and you’re not being talked over,” she said.
“I think a lot of women struggle with that, regardless of the position they’re in, but as we continue to educate, we can see it changing in society a little bit at a time.”