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Digital world lets you experience museums

The Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum located in the historic Boulder Dam Hotel collects, preserves and exhibits thousands of artifacts, documents and photos that tell the story of the men and women who built Hoover Dam and established Boulder City. Its unique collections are recognized by the National Park Service as an integral part of its Save America’s Treasures program. Now those treasures are becoming more accessible than ever as the museum embarks on a major project to make and display digital copies of its holdings.

As technology advances, the ways in which we interact with history, art and culture are changing every day. And how we experience museums is a prime example.

Museums have always topped the list of attractions for travelers worldwide. A quick view of Tripadvisor for any major destination is ample evidence of that fact. Sure, we like to visit the natural wonders of the world as well. But even those usually have a museum or visitors center attached.

That’s because museums tell the stories that we yearn to know — stories about people, how their society evolved, noteworthy personalities, their accomplishments, artifacts and works of art that inspire us and bring their culture to life, and other important local information.

The problem with museums is that we usually have to take a trip to visit them. And that, of course, can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if the must-see museum is halfway across the country or the world. Most of us don’t have the luxury of being full-time world travelers. And so, only the most fortunate among us actually get to visit more than one or two important museums like the Smithsonian Institution or National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, or the Vatican in Europe.

But digitizing is rapidly expanding our options for experiencing museums. Because of digital images, we no longer have to physically visit a museum to view its holdings. Instead, we can interact virtually, including in revolutionary ways that even physical visitors can’t experience.

For instance, digitizing allows us to see not only two-dimensional views of flat prints like paintings but also 3D images of sculptures with amazing detail from every angle. Many museums even allow online users to download and edit their digitized collections, including, for instance, animating a statue into a moving figure. High resolution and enhancement capabilities also often make the digital image much clearer than an in-person view.

Virtual reality settings even allow us to explore the insides of famous paintings, including brush strokes and how the artist layered the paint from start to finish. Digitizing also enables us to see millions of artifacts stored in warehouses that museums simply don’t have the space to exhibit and would otherwise be hidden from public view.

The increased accessibility afforded by digitizing benefits researchers, too. Sometimes that creates amazing results, such as when two museums holding different sides of a historic tablet were able to combine them using virtual renditions and then collaborate in translating the text.

The exciting news for Boulder City is that our museum’s collections will soon be digitally available too. The museum’s holdings are already highly sought after by researchers such as the Public Broadcasting Service, BBC, History Channel and major universities. And now those will be more accessible than ever to all of us.

Of course, a digitizing project of this magnitude isn’t cheap and easy. In fact, it will take years to complete and cost an estimated quarter-million dollars. Grants will help fund the project, but your much-needed donations can make a major difference as well.

Meanwhile, please remember that virtual reality is only intended to enhance in-person experiences, not replace them. So plan a visit soon to the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum and help commemorate Boulder Dam Hotel’s 90th birthday as you check out its new “Celebrating 90” exhibit.

Like Will Rogers, Howard Hughes, Shirley Temple, Pope Pius XII, the Maharajah of India, Archduke Otto Hapsburg, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Spencer Tracy, Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many other luminaries who have visited over the years, you, too, will discover why the hotel and museum are two of Boulder City’s most treasured gems.

The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.

Rod Woodbury has resided in Boulder City for more than 40 years and is a partner in the law firm Jolley Urga Woodbury &Holthus. He served on the City Council from 2011- 2019, including four years as mayor.

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