By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Children raced through a cave, crawled through a canoe, pretended to live in a hut, ran their fingers through different animal pelts and peeked into display cases housing dinosaur remains and replicas of Oklahoma wildlife Sunday at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
The museum hosted a “Historic Block Party” in celebration of receiving the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The medal, which was on display in the museum’s lobby Sunday, is like the Oscars of the museum world, said Michael Mares, museum director.
“It’s the highest award the federal government makes to a museum for serving the community. This is the 20th year, and we were one of five museums selected out of more than 17,000 museums in the United States. It’s the first time an Oklahoma institution has gotten it, so it’s a real honor,” Mares said.
He estimated at least 1,000 people would attend the event, which included complimentary admission and featured musical performances by Travis Linville, the Tequila Song Birds, Mike Hosty and Sherree Chamberlain.
Mares said the event was meant to be like a party because without the support of Oklahomans and the community, receiving the medal wouldn’t have been possible.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the people of Oklahoma. They were the ones that supported us in this museum when it looked like we’d never get a museum. And we got the building and they’ve worked with us on the programs, they helped us develop the programs, and I think that — without them — it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
As a national medal winner, Mares said they will be expected to be a pace setter and continue to improve, letting their peers learn from them. Sam Noble Museum works with other museums, and Mares travels the world telling the story of the Oklahoma museum of natural history.
Many museums and a lot of other countries have begun to take notice and are beginning to model their development based on Sam Noble Museum’s development from the facility to the programs, he said, adding they are very well known in the museum world and around the world.
Two of the museum’s programs were found particularly favorable at the national level. The explorology program teaches and engages children in science with scientists.
“Did you know Oklahoma’s one of the worst states in the union on science education? A lot of people are still back in the Middle Ages with their beliefs on science. So we bring accurate information and we take kids and we show them how to do science and they’re astounded by it,” Mares said.
Around 50,000 kids across the state are influenced by the programs and it makes a difference, he said.
The second program viewed favorably was the museum’s Native American language program, which takes language collections and returns them to the tribes as part of their language program.
“We have (language) collections, and those languages are interpreted and brought back to the tribes, and the young people are learning to speak their languages using the materials in these collections,” Mares said.
Last year, nearly 40 tribes were at the language fair; so far, they’ve reached about 7,000 to 8,000 young people. The program helps the younger generation learn their own languages that are no longer taught and helps them communicate with their grandparents or great-grandparents to redevelop tribal pride, he said.
“I really appreciate the support of the people of Oklahoma. They’ve really been great. They love the museum, and we certainly love them. That’s the interaction that comes from serving. We’re here to serve the people and protect their treasure, and that’s what we do,” Mares said.
Many of the attendees who weren’t walking through the museum Sunday had a blanket sprawled out on the large lawn or sitting under a tree with a lawn chair.
Food trucks offered cold treats that melted quickly in the Oklahoma heat, and some brought their pets to enjoy the outdoor block party.
City Council member Stephen Tyler Holman said he walked from his house over to the event to join the celebration.
“I think it’s good any time we can have events to gather the community together and enjoy live music from local musicians,” Holman said. “But especially since this museum, being one of the biggest natural history museums in the world, is located right here in my ward — Ward 7.”
While some attendees said their favorite part was Sno Cones, ice cream or the free photo booth, many enjoyed spending time with family.
“It’s a family day. I’m with my sister and my daughter,” said Norman resident Marta Burcham as her daughter, Holly Jones, and sister, Michelle Evans, sat next to her outside the museum.
For more information, visit SNOMNH.OU.edu.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.