Friday, September 28, 2012

Museums of Salt Lake City

I'm not able to be in Salt Lake City next week for the AASLH Annual Conference. I'm trying really hard not to sulk. I so loved being on the program committee, reading all the proposals and helping to shape the conference's message. I've registered for the online conference, though, and that will have to tide me over.

Hopefully, there will be less snow next week. The mountains will be just as gorgeous, though.
When I was in town for the program committee meeting in January, I did a fair amount of museum visiting. I'll do a quick recap of the places I went here, for anyone who's lucky enough to get to the conference and wants an overview.

Temple Square

Open rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Amazing.
You can't miss it. Literally everything in the city radiates out from this central location, and of course there's the massive temple. It's a lovely public space, with some wonderful historic buildings. The visitor centers have exhibits both about the history and current practices of Mormonism. If you get the chance, go to the open rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Thursday night.

Church History Museum

Entrance to the Church History Museum.

Adjacent to Temple Square, this is the museum for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's got everything, up to and including Joseph Smith's death mask and an original hand cart used by a Mormon pioneer. Make sure you get upstairs to the children's galleries, and if you're pressed for time turn down the offer of an individual tour. I learned a ton and had great interactions with my guide, but it took over two hours to get through the (relatively small) galleries.

Natural History Museum of Utah

I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a bad photograph of this building.
The building is brand new, the collections have been completely re-installed, and the only drawback to this museum is that it is really difficult to get to, involving several different types of public transportation or a costly taxi ride. If you can make it up, though, there were some absolutely phenomenal exhibits and participatory elements.

Salt Lake City Public Library

Cafes and stores in the courtyard of the library.
So it's not a museum, but it's one of the best public cultural spaces I've ever seen. I was in absolute awe. If you get the chance even to just walk through, definitely do so.

The Leonardo

This interactive sculpture responded to its environment by moving around and reaching out in a way that was simultaneously awe-inspiring and deeply creepy.
Also brand new, this might take the prize for quirkiest museum space I've ever visited. It bills itself as a contemporary art, science, and technology museum, and it seems to have taken a whole bunch of interactive and educational elements and put them in a blender. Every which way I turned there was something fascinating, and much of it was very well-done, but I'm not sure it sent me away with a coherent overall message other than "COOL!"

This is certainly not a complete overview of every museum in Salt Lake City - there were plenty I didn't get to, unfortunately. It's a highly selective list of what I was able to do in a day and a half. I'd love to go back someday and dig deeper. If you're going to the conference, are there any museums on your list to visit?


  1. Thanks for this overview Amanda. Glad you included the public library. I agree... it's really cool. I'm not sure I've ever seen another library like it. I heard other people from program committee talk about the Leonardo. I'm so curious. Gotta get there next week.

  2. Hey!

    I'd definitely be interested in what you think of the Leonardo. I was reviewing my photos of the exhibits while I put this post together and struck again by how clever the individual pieces of it were, but once again how I never got a good coherent message. I think there are a lot of strengths there, and it's so very new it will be interesting to see how it builds on them.