Though his family moved from Seattle to Reno when he was 11, museologist and curator Garrett Barmore is proud to call himself a Nevadan.
He chose to attend the University of Nevada, Reno and graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Affairs and minors in both Historical Archaeology and World History. He served as a student worker in the former Getchell Library (which then stood where the Pennington Student Achievement Center is now) for Electronic Reserves and Document Delivery Services. After moving on to earn a Master of Arts degree in Museology from the University of Washington in Seattle, a rare opportunity arose at Nevada’s W. M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum.
“The idea of returning home and to my alma mater was certainly exciting, but it was the nature of the position itself that made me want to come back to the University. My passion is working with small museums and helping them use best practices and their limited resources to grow. I could see a wealth of opportunity and room for growth at Keck.”
Mr. Barmore was hired in September of 2013 to be the Keck Museum’s (initially part-time) curator and only professional staffer. Mr. Barmore brought his expertise, energy, and passion to the role, breathing new life and relevance into a once-overlooked museum. He is now full-time and full-speed ahead on bringing the Keck Museum into the 21st century and in line with the American Alliance of Museums’ best practices. Annually, he gives tours to 4,500 kindergarten through 12th grade students, not including countless impromptu tours given to groups and individuals that drop in during the museum’s open hours. Visit the Keck Museum.
Due to limited open hours and the location of the museum, it is difficult for all of Nevada’s school-age children to visit. In collaboration with College of Science Communications Specialist Jennifer Sande, Mr. Barmore helps break down this barrier by hosting a highly successful educational video series called Mineral Monday at the Keck Museum. The series offers a virtual tour and features a different object in the Keck Museum’s collection each Monday. It is creative, sometimes silly, and highly engaging for viewers of all ages. Mineral Monday is played in numerous classrooms and has a strong local and even international following. Special field trip episodes take viewers to some of Nevada’s most interesting geological formations, including Sand Mountain, an active mine site, Fly Geyser, and the Black Rock Desert.
“I’m not ashamed of our roots in gambling, but that story has been told, and I want to share more about how we are the most mountainous state in the union and the fourth largest producer of gold in the world. We have the bristlecone pine, which is the oldest known living organism in North America and oldest known living individual non-cloning tree in the world. Nevada’s history is so charmingly weird and unique, and Mineral Monday has been a fun way to teach students and virtual tourists all about it, one mineral, object, or geological formation at a time.”
As President of the Nevada Museums Association, and in collaboration with the other caretakers of the University of Nevada, Reno’s nine museums on campus, Mr. Barmore hopes to bring visibility and resources to all of Nevada’s museums – especially the small and rural volunteer-operated museums that lack professionally trained staff. Having researched and written his graduate thesis on this very subject, he stresses the importance of research collaborations, educational programs, and alliances with other museums to help small and disadvantaged museums leverage their limited resources to survive, grow, and inspire curiosity in their communities.
As the Keck Museum’s sole caretaker and professional staffer, Mr. Barmore designs exhibits, leads tours, manages and grows the collection, gives public talks, publishes articles (for both academic and smaller publications), and collaborates with researchers in numerous departments on campus – from Mining and Mineral Engineering of course, to Art, History, and Race, Gender and Identity studies.
“Earth science and mining engineering have applications that touch on so many fields, and that touch on everyone’s daily lives, though many people don’t realize it.” Mr. Barmore hopes that through museum-based education, visitors of all ages will not only learn more about the subject, but also become inspired with curiosity and wonder. He wants visitors, especially school-age children, to feel comfortable and welcome in museum spaces from an early age and find lifelong joy and learning in such spaces.
“Museums belong to the public. Everyone belongs, even the most loud and animated children. Exploring in a museum should be a fun adventure and an experience that you can’t wait to share with others. I welcome all teachers to encourage their students to speak and explore freely. Sharing is learning, after all.”
When asked why he loves what he does, Mr. Barmore says it is the adventure. “You never know what is going to happen from one day to the next. I work with interesting and diverse groups and occasionally discover really interesting things in the collection. When I first started working here, I found what looked like a cow patty in the collection. I didn’t know what it was, so I put it in storage. A few years later it was identified by a paleontologist as a 50,000 coprolite, otherwise known as fossilized dung – from a giant ground sloth. Most people don’t know that Nevada used to be home to giant sloths, and this particular specimen was collected here in Nevada. A few years ago I also surprised to discover that we had an original hand-written sales contract for the Savage Claim from the year it was founded in 1859 in the collection.”
Mr. Barmore has found community within the College of Science and the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering. “They are a great college and department to be a part of because everyone helps each other out. The administrative staff in the College of Science often help me navigate Workday and business processes that are new or that I don’t regularly perform. I work closely with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology and the Geology Department as well. We also have a casual consortium made up of the University’s nine museums on campus and we communicate and collaborate regularly.”
Mr. Barmore and his wife Laurel, who works for the Davidson Institute, greatly enjoy living and working in Reno. When they’re not working, they enjoy traveling and exploring the region’s scenic outdoors through camping, backpacking, and fishing. Mr. Barmore is somewhat of an urban explorer as well; he’s a big fan of the Reno Aces baseball and 1868 soccer teams; the quirky arts and music events across town; and Reno’s many restaurants, from historic Basque restaurants to the trendy new eateries in Midtown. “There’s a lot to do on campus as well. I’ve always been a big Wolfpack football fan, but what’s special about campus is that you can go to a graduate defense or colloquium, a museum opening, an art event, and a sports event all in the same day. With the diversity of events offered, we never get bored.”
It should come as no surprise that Mr. Barmore enjoys collecting historical objects, but you may be interested to learn that he especially loves collecting early 20st century office supplies. “One of my favorite items is a working date stamp that goes from 1927-1932. They are hard to find because they get thrown away as soon as they expire.”
Learn more about Museology
Museology is the study of museums, but is also Greek for, “study of inspiration.” In some institutions, it is simply referred to as Museum Studies.
If you’re interested in learning more, you’re in luck! The University of Nevada, Reno’s Anthropology Department offers a Minor in Museum Studies:
“The interdisciplinary program in Museum Studies offers students an opportunity to explore the expanding field of museum work and museum research. The Museum Studies minor is designed to provide an introduction to the field, exposure to some of the skills and techniques required of a career museologist and an initial apprenticeship experience in a museum setting.
Today there are roughly 7,000 public museums in the United States, employing career museologists as well as professional curators, exhibit technicians, educators and others. Students contemplating a career in the museum field, or in a discipline such as anthropology, art, biology, geology, history, historic preservation, textiles and clothing, or in federal or state agency service, will find the minor particularly useful.”
As part of the coursework for the Museum Studies program, students are required to complete both a 15 hour and 100 hour internship in a museum setting – and many students have completed internships at the Keck Museum with Mr. Barmore. He typically has between two and three interns at a time who design their own project around something they are passionate about, and Mr. Barmore helps them learn and gain professional experience while following best practices. He’s had interns work on projects that range from cataloguing special collections to developing educational programs and exhibits.