For 40 years, people have visited the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, and come away with a sense of discovery, a flash of joy, a new connection to the land, its people, and its past.
It’s the emotional response felt at the High Desert Museum that keeps people coming back, said Dana Whitelaw, the museum’s executive director. And it’s all thanks to the vision of the museum’s late founder, Don Kerr, who, after being told countless times, persisted and ultimately brought his vision to fruition.
Kerr first opened the museum 40 years ago on May 29, 1982. At the time, it was 5,500 square feet of indoor exhibit space and a handful of exhibits from live animals indoors and outdoors. On May 27, the museum celebrated its 40th anniversary by unveiling a new exhibit titled “Lair: Light and the Art of Stephen Hendee.” The celebration also included a memory sharing station where customers and supporters were invited to write memories that sparked joy and wonder.
Today, the High Desert Museum has grown significantly, with over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, animal habitats and trails on 135 acres. It has since become world famous for its cultural, natural and artistic exhibits honoring and educating on the arid high desert plateau. According to Whitelaw, the High Desert Museum provides an interactive, multi-disciplinary experience for people to learn more about the High Desert, all with the goal of moving towards a better future. It is a place of art and culture and a haven where the different people who make up the High Desert community can come together to learn from each other and work towards solving contemporary issues in the area.
True to its heritage
Kerr, founder and visionary of the High Desert Museum, liked to say that the museum serves to “wildly excite and responsibly teach our visitors,” and that this vision and passion for learning remains strong 40 years later.