Business name: Aspen Historical Society
Address: 620 W. Bleeker St., Aspen, CO 81611
Social media: @historyaspen (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
Aspen Times: How have you gotten creative during this time? What have you done to keep your customers engaged?
Aspen Historical Society: At the start of the lockdown, in an effort to connect with our community digitally, AHS launched a new email digest titled “History at Home” featuring curated content and resources to experience the past from anywhere. The series includes a variety of suggestions and opportunities to engage with the past: from activities for your family, videos of past programs and site tours, and historical and relevant content created by AHS and our partners, to suggestions and tips for exploring the AHS online archives at archiveaspen.org. The online archive has seen more web traffic than ever before and is the rabbit hole you didn’t know you needed, where you can search the extensive historical photo collection in addition to records, old newspapers, old yearbooks, oral histories and more. The email series has been well-received and AHS plans to continue publishing it for as long as it seems useful (to subscribe visit https://bit.ly/3bM4kwi).
In another shift when the Wheeler/Stallard Museum closed, AHS began offering free copies of the exhibit catalogue for Bayer & Bauhaus: How Design Shaped Aspen, the previous exhibition that had to close early due to the pandemic. Copies are still available for anyone who would like one.
In April, AHS launched a partnership project with Aspen Public Radio called “Quarantine Stories: Recording History.” The project was prompted by AHS’s research of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, for which AHS had few personal stories in its archives. To avoid the same fate for future historians, AHS took proactive measures to archive community members’ experiences. Similar to the narrative style of the award-winning program StoryCorps on NPR, the project harnesses the power of collective storytelling to capture Aspen’s pandemic history through community-sourced audio recordings. Citizens in the Roaring Fork Valley are invited to submit recorded stories, interviews and reflections about their experience of the pandemic to be cataloged in a publicly accessible library by APR and archived for posterity by AHS. The response to this important project has been inspirational to say the least, ranging from poignant stories to insight into families passing the time to heartbreaking experiences. A teacher from Carbondale Middle School even assigned her entire class to write their recollections for submission, each addressed to “Dear Future Historian”! To submit your story for this ongoing project, go to aspenhistory.org/quarantine-stories/; to listen to the submissions thus far, go to www.aspenpublicradio.org/topic/quarantine-stories-recording-history.
As restrictions eased, AHS expanded existing and created new outdoor-only tours, with reduced capacity and public safety regulations strictly observed. Thus far the tours have been popular options to safely experience area history during this unusual summer!
Finally, AHS is exploring options to provide virtual history experiences: from a virtual tour of the new exhibit “Decade by Decade: Aspen Revealed,” to virtual field trips at our sites in lieu of school groups being able to visit in person this coming fall.
AT: What’s the most important thing the community can do to support you?
AHS: The most important thing the community can do is to maintain your zest for and interest in history and to continue to participate in our offerings! There are plenty of opportunities to safely explore area history this summer: tours are running and our sites are open with protocols in place that prioritize the health and safety of guests and staff. AHS expresses our utmost gratitude to the community and to our supporters, whose backing during this difficult time has been crucial to our continued work.
AT: Where can we find your most current offerings and updates?
AHS: For the most up-to-date schedules and information, visit aspenhistory.org or call 970-925-3721.
AT: What has been the best customer experience or comment you’ve had since the crisis started?
AHS: We’ve received many kind words in response to our “History at Home” digest, which is especially appreciated considering it is a new initiative. We’ve also heard from many tour participants who enjoyed their experiences. Here’s one that stood out: “Wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed the historical tour with Nina yesterday. It was my 2nd time, and the first for my husband. As we left the tour, I will quote him ‘That was spectacular!’ We look forward to future tours.” Positive feedback like that means a great deal to the team at AHS during these unusual times. We’ve also seen tremendous interest in the new exhibit at the Wheeler/Stallard Museum, which opened July 14.
AT: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding your business during the pandemic?
AHS: The people of this valley have faced adversity time and again with strength and resilience. We take comfort in knowing history will inform the path forward. No one knows what the future holds, but at AHS we’ve been inspired by examples from the past as well as the creativity, kindness and strength of spirit on display across our community throughout these past few months. We’re prepared to face the future with a renewed commitment to our mission to preserve and share the stories that make this community special!