It’s said “challenges create great opportunities” and for the Wyoming Division of Cultural Resources of the Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources agency, the COVID-19 pandemic provided plenty of both. While the Division continued to accomplish their day-to-day functions largely away from the office, they had unforeseen opportunities to provide a variety of services benefitting the Wyoming public during the pandemic.
The Wyoming Arts Council, through the CARES Act, distributed one-time grants to arts organizations and artists that have suffered substantial financial losses as a result of COVID-19. Musicians were a specific group hit especially hard as most venues were and continue to be closed. The grants totaled more than $225,000 and we know that supporting the cultural sector can improve a community’s vitality and economic health.
Additionally, the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund recently awarded more than $123,000 in matching grants for projects across the state. The projects ranged from historic building preservation, art education programs to museum exhibits and collecting oral histories.
The State Museum and State Archives serve multiple purposes, including collecting and safekeeping of the state’s history. As part of that mission, the state museum, State Archives and American Heritage Center in Laramie have partnered to collect objects, materials and documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic. State government entities were asked to collect and provide a variety of information related to the pandemic including written documents, such as telework and social distancing plans, social media posts, reports, memos and press releases.
It was found that little is known about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and its impact on the state and region largely due to the fact that there weren’t agencies like the state museum and state archives to collect that history.
While the State Museum was closed during the early months of the pandemic, Curators produced a series of educational videos that were posted on social media. The Governor’s Capitol Art Exhibit featuring the works of Wyoming Artists went virtual for the first time ever and the museum saw additional sales of work in the new online venue. During the closure, a new exhibit called “Ghosts of War,” featuring artifacts from the American Revolution through Operation Desert Storm was installed.
The State Historic Preservation Office continued their work as usual through the internet-based consultation system launched in 2019. That system ensures that industries such as oil and gas and mining can continue work without additional delays during the pandemic and that discoveries of historical and archaeological resources in the State are properly documented and protected.
The Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist is tasked with the recovery of archaeological human remains discovered on private and state lands within six days of their discovery. This requirement is mandated by recently passed legislation and during the pandemic the office responded to four discoveries of human remains, including a historic military era soldier dating to 1860 and an 1860’s child’s grave left behind when a cemetery was relocated in the city of Cheyenne. The archaeologists instituted precautions to prevent the spread COVID by wearing masks, installing hand washing stations on site and practicing social distancing while working.
Despite a less than ideal work situation during the past several months, the Wyoming Division of Cultural Resources has continued to provide the State with their services as well as develop a few new methods for serving the State of Wyoming.