Museums on the Move
With the opening of a new Museum of Nature & Science, downtown Las Cruces is now home to four standout museums.
by Jay W. Sharp
With the addition of the Museum of Nature & Science (MoNaS) to the cultural complex in Las Cruces' rebounding downtown area — culminating more than a decade of planning and preparation and more than $5 million in investment — the city will offer one of the richest and most diverse experiences in natural science, history and art in southern New Mexico or western Texas.
Museum of Nature & Science
Located proximate to the Branigan Culture Center and the Museum of Art and only a few blocks east of the Railroad Museum (situated at the original Las Cruces Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot), MoNaS aims to "inspire curiosity about the sciences, facilitate life-long learning, and promote stewardship of the natural environment of the Chihuahuan Desert and southern New Mexico," according to the museums' most recent annual report. MoNaS, under Director Michael Walczak, also serves as an interpretive center for our Chihuahuan Desert — one of the most varied but threatened landscapes in the nation.
Newly reopened and renamed after its move from Las Cruces' Mesilla Valley Mall, the former Museum of Natural History features a major new exhibit on the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, located in the Robledo Mountains, north of Las Cruces. The monument, notes the Bureau of Land Management, contains "footprints of numerous amphibians, reptiles and insects (including previously unknown species), plants, and petrified wood dating back 280 million years, which collectively provide new opportunities to understand animal behaviors and environments from a time predating dinosaurs. The site contains the most scientifically significant Early Permian track sites in the world." The museum will serve as an interpretative starting point for tours of the monument, which encompasses some 5,280 acres.
MoNaS' Magic Planet exhibit, with Pluto discoverer Clyde W. Tombaugh’s telescope, the "Grazer Gazer," which he had mounted on a lawnmower base to make it more portable. (MoNaS photo)
MoNaS also has a new, four-foot-diameter globe called the "Magic Planet." Controlled by a touch-screen display, the globe can track weather systems on earth and display detailed surface features of the sun and our solar system planets.
The MoNaS building itself serves as a significant exhibit because it now meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, which promote environmentally sound, healthy, durable and affordable practices in structural design and construction. The building, owned by the city, enhances the museum's potential for grants.
Along with its new exhibits and innovative construction, the museum has significantly improved its animal habitat displays, and it has added a classroom and discovery laboratory for visitors.
In addition to exhibits, the museum offers numerous programs for children and adults who love nature and the sciences. These include, for a few examples, hands-on experiences with Chihuahuan Desert wildlife, plant life and geology; desert field trips with museum staff; science-book story time for three- to five-year olds and their parents; merit badge programs for Boy Scouts; night-sky discovery time with the New Mexico State University Astronomy Department; and monthly roundtable discussions with International Scientific Research Society members.
Branigan Culture Center
Under Director Rebecca Slaughter, the Branigan Culture Center, housed in a structure listed on the national and state registries of historic buildings, maintains permanent exhibits on the prehistory and the four-and-a-half-century history of Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley — a story that extends from Native American peoples to Spanish conquistadores to Hispanic and Anglo settlers to space-age technology. It is a tale that vibrates to the ceremonial chanting of ancient shamans, the clatter of hoof beats, the screech of badly worn wagon wheels, the lowing of livestock, the rattling of armor, the tramp of Civil War soldiers, the cries of human conflict, the crack of musket and rifle fire, the thunder of mountain howitzers, the mournful call of passing trains, the hum of today's automobiles and trucks, and the occasional sound-barrier breakthroughs of modern military aircraft.
The Branigan Culture Center, housed in a structure listed on the national and state registries of historic buildings.
Photo by Jay W. Sharp
The Branigan exhibits, comprising artifacts, documents, narrative and historic photographs, recall the progression from the hardships of early travel and encampments along the Rio Grande to the dusty life in early small adobe homes in the valley to the vibrancy of our growing city and outlying communities of today.
In the course of a typical year, the museum hosts numerous exhibits featuring chapters in Western history as well as work by national, regional and local artists and craftsmen. Often in collaboration with organizations such as New Mexico State University, the Doña Ana Arts Council, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service and many others, Branigan offers various lecture series; Native American craft and lifestyle demonstrations; international cultural exchanges; after-school art, music and dance programs; and public concert and film presentations.
Museum of Art
The Las Cruces Museum of Art, says Director Lisa Pugh, "strives to engage and inspire its diverse audience through contemporary art exhibitions, public programming, and educational activities." It holds a growing permanent collection of contemporary art. It hosts changing contemporary art exhibits, including international, national, juried, traveling and invitational exhibits. It runs an extensive art studio class program for all ages.
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