Britt Thurman’s heart is for history
Coeur d’Alene Press FAST FIVE | April 24, 2021 1:00 AM
Meet Britt Thurman, executive director of the Museum of North Idaho. Britt grew up in Coeur d’Alene, but moved away a few years back to get her master’s degree in museum studies from the University of Kansas. Since then, she’s worked at various museums across the country before returning home to land her dream job as Museum of North Idaho’s new director. Britt is excited to be back home near family and to spend some time in the great outdoors.
I’m one of the earlier millennials. I grew up with a Macintosh computer in the home, but didn’t have a cell phone until after I graduated high school. My first job was as a projectionist at a movie theater when films were still on reels and not discs or hard drives. I got to grow up tinkering and exploring but was also introduced to technology at a young enough age that I’m comfortable introducing it into the museum and making it more interactive. I love how technology makes our lives easier but also appreciate turning it all off and enjoying the world around me.
Career and community involvement:
I’ve worked in the museum field for a decade now and love it just as much today. Whenever I was asked what my ultimate career goal was, I would always answer to be the director of the Museum of North Idaho. I wanted to help the museum progress and be a true community hub for shared experiences and learning. One of my biggest tasks is to create more partnerships and collaborate on community programs. I strongly believe in co-creation and am looking forward to making the museum into what this community needs and deserves. I’ve only been back home for a little more than six months, but I’m looking forward to getting to know how this community has changed and also stayed the same while I was away.
It’s the furbaby life for me. I have two amazing dogs: a Rhodesian ridgeback named Archibald and a terrier mix named Rory. They keep me active and also remind me to enjoy the small things in life like lying outside in the sunshine.
1. How have you enjoyed your role at the museum so far, and what’s new for the 2021 season?
It has been an absolute whirlwind at the museum since I started, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I definitely had to hit the ground running; there’s so much going on right now. From meeting with architects to working on designs for the new museum under the J.C. White House to designing our featured exhibition “Hollywood of the North,” no day is like the one before it. It’s honestly such a fun job, and I have such an amazing team. I’m so proud of how our new exhibit turned out, too. We put in a lot of late-night hours to put it all together, and it turned out great. Thanks to community support, we were able to get a lot of loaned artifacts to fill out the exhibit, such as Bing Crosby’s fedora hat and Patty Duke’s Oscar. We’re also developing programs to go with the exhibit, such as Movies in the Park and a collaboration with the Coeur d’Alene Symphony for its Labor Day concert.
2. Why should a community care about preserving its history and keeping its past alive?
Everything we do is defined by our history. It determines who we are and what we make of our future. History is also fragile. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. If we don’t take the time to save and preserve it today, we don’t get another chance. We can’t learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the past if we let those stories vanish. My favorite thing about history is the stories of people and how artifacts help us preserve and tell those stories. Objects help us relate to the past by making history real and tangible. Right now, I think Coeur d’Alene is at an important stage. There’s so much growth happening that it can be easy to get swept up in progress and undervalue our region’s history. The museum was so fortunate to be able to save the historic J.C. White House from demolition and instead turn it into the centerpiece for a premier regional museum where we can share even more of North Idaho’s history and help inspire younger generations to appreciate the people and events that came before them.
3. Where is the museum at with fundraising to move into its new location, and how can people help you reach those fundraising goals?
The museum is right in the middle of a capital campaign to finish constructing our new facility at the base of Tubbs Hill. In order to save the J.C. White House, we had to begin construction before we finished fundraising. As it stands right now, we have $4.5 million we need to raise to finish the project. We have some good prospects, like the upcoming National Endowment for the Humanities $500,000 grant. To be eligible, we have to have $1.5 million in cash or pledges by May 15th. We’ve been so fortunate to have great community support so far, and it would be amazing to be able to apply for that grant. There are so many ways people can help us reach our fundraising goals. Direct donations can be made on our website or at the museum. You can buy tickets to a fundraising event like the Antiques Appraisal Day Event in May or our gala in October. You can also help us spread the word. Share our project and goals with your friends, family and coworkers. I’m also giving a lot of presentations right now, so if you have a group or know of one that would like a featured speaker, I love opportunities to share updates on our campaign and the new museum.
4. What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t know if I should share this in Zags country, but I’m a huge Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan. I went to every game I could while I was in school there and still remember all of the cheers. There’s nothing like attending a home game. The energy is surreal. I even have an autographed basketball signed by the 2014 team including Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. This past season was really rough for us, but we’ll come back stronger. I know it. I am proud of the Zags though. They had an absolutely amazing season.
5. If you could go back in time to witness any historical event, what/where would it be and why?
Oh goodness. That’s like asking a kid to pick one item from a candy shop. I would love to witness the signing of the U.S. Constitution or be on the steps to listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I want to watch Leonardo Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa and see Cleopatra stand toe to toe with Roman emperors. My greatest wish would be to travel back in time and witness the world before “historical events,” to see the country before tall buildings, cars and smog – before the sounds of man drowned out the sounds of nature. I would love to experience the stillness of our world before we changed it to meet our needs. That’s probably why I love camping so much.