Traveling Exhibitions & How the Moab Museum Expands Our Storytelling

What are traveling exhibits?

UDAM’s traveling exhibition “Navajo Children: Weaving the Future.”

Museums large and small often opt to borrow traveling exhibits to temporarily integrate into their galleries when they align with their institution’s scope or programming. Traveling exhibits are curated collections of objects and/or images that tell a story, but are displayed for only a limited time frame. These exhibits are commonly provided by larger institutions such as the Smithsonian or the Utah Department of Arts and Museums (UDAM). 

UDAM launched a traveling exhibit program to offer smaller museums, libraries, and schools around the state a set of exhibits to tell state-wide stories. 

In the words of UDAM:

“Traveling exhibitions are curated as a collaborative partnership with local artists, arts organizations, and institutions. Utah museums, colleges, university and community galleries, arts and cultural centers, libraries, and schools all register for the exhibitions annually. These exhibitions and their accompanying educational materials provide public access to quality visual art, nurture understanding of diverse art forms and cultures, promote creativity, and encourage cultural activities in local communities.”

Utah Department of Arts and Museums

UDAM loans their traveling exhibits nationwide, and their program includes exhibits on contemporary photography, Saltgrass printmakers, painting, and student art, all through a Utah lens. The Moab Museum has hosted several of these exhibits: Block Prints by Everett RuessThrough Toil and Labor: the Forgotten History of Utah’s Chinese Railroad Workers, and Navajo Children: Weaving the Future [current exhibit].

“UDAM has access to collections resources to help them tell relevant stories across the state of Utah. Block Prints by Everett Ruess is a story that edhas a specific geographic area of relevance [i.e. the canyons of Southern Utah, specifically Escalante, where Ruess disappeared into], but appeals to people farther afield, across UT, across the West, and across the country. For this Ruess exhibit example, those prints are in the State’s [UDAM] collection and care. They can share them more broadly by developing traveling exhibits to bring more vibrant, temporary, new stuff to library, schools, small museums, all across the state, especially where there aren’t large museums.” 

Mary Langworthy, Public Programs Manager, Moab Museum

Why are traveling exhibits important?

Traveling exhibits have the power to “democratizes history and storytelling,” according to Public Programs Manager at the Moab Museum, Mary Langworthy. They allow the Museum to broaden the reach of our own Collection, adding materials that were not owned or located here in Moab. Additionally, they offer a pre-packaged storyline that has been peer-vetted and compiled by professionals at trusted institutions. “Why reinvent the wheel? And why not package exhibits so that they can be reshared?” Tara Beresh, Moab Museum Curatorial and Collections Manager asked.

The exhibits the Moab Museum puts on display are all temporary and their durations vary. For the amount of time and monetary investment each requires, the chance to add to our own storytelling in a state-coordinated manner is an incredible opportunity. 

“I think the Chinese rail workers exhibit is a good example of how a traveling exhibit allowed us to share a story that we didn’t have photos, objects, oral histories relevant to in our collection. But with the proximity and importance of the railroad to our town’s past, it’s absolutely a relevant story. The traveling exhibits let us tell lesser told, lesser understood stories, we don’t have the collection to tell otherwise.” 

Mary Langworthy, Public Programs Manager, Moab Museum

“Navajo Children: Weaving the Future:” UDAM’s Contribution to “The People’s Tapestry: Weaving Tradition in Navajo Culture” [Current Temporary Exhibition]

The Moab Museum team, led by Curator Tara Beresh, set out to illustrate the story of Navajo weaving in an immersive format. She wanted the space to inspire the feeling of a trading post; the type of establishment that has historically been found across the southwest and the Navajo Nation, bringing in Navajo voices, weavers themselves, textile collectors, and the next generations to carry on the tradition.

“This exhibit contains textiles from both contemporary and historic time periods, all woven by adult and/or expert weavers.  A traveling exhibits blends insight from another curator or institution. Moab Museum’s The People’s Tapestry tells The People’s story outside of a commercial context. UDAM’s Weaving the Future is a collection of textiles woven by children as opposed to adults or experts; these rugs demonstrates the connection of weaving to people’s lives from birth to adulthood, highlighting that the craft is about more than a culture’s livelihood. It presents a tangible example of the importance of artistry beyond consumerism.” 

Tara Beresh, Curatorial and Collections Manger, Moab Museum

Navajo Children: Weaving the Future displays the lifestyle and generational nature of the art form. The exhibit features weavings from children ages 4-15 who are a part of the Adopt-an-Elder program, which provides an environment in which traditional weaving techniques can be passed on within a community. This enables youth to perpetuate the practice and tap into the global tourism market inspired by a renewed interest in history and culture, as well as economic development activity. 

The children’s weavings provide balance to the rest of the textiles on display, impressing upon the viewer that there is significance and joy imbued into the process of weaving, without a focus on the commercial viability of their art. In other words, it’s not about the market. Weaving the Future is about weaving for weaving’s sake. Weaving is a method of expressing the Navajo story; it is about life.

An abbreviated version of this post was first published in the Moab Sun News in the Museum’s column, Moab History.