The recent exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art, Tahoe: A Visual History, was terrific for the community and for visitors from outside our area. Even for locals who thought they knew the history involved, there was new information. Pieces that have never been gathered together made a historical mosaic that will likely not be seen again. An unwieldy but equally informative coffee table book was published to accompany the exhibition. it all made history more accessible.
When we went through the halls, we heard few complaints. One was that there was too little on the movies made at Lake Tahoe. A visitor from Texas mentioned it, but he also understood that there were limits to an exhibition that covered two centuries, and it could not include everything.
Another complaint was that photography was not allowed, and that one, we believe, had greater merit. It speaks to what museum experiences should be. They should not be on-tiptoe, hushed-respect experiences. Many people dislike museums for exactly that reason, and they learn to dislike them at a formative time—in childhood. Being hushed can translate to a lifetime habit of avoiding museums.
That’s one of the reasons the Nevada State Museum in Carson City is such a great place to take children. Things are more informal, less structured. Visitors take pictures of each other in front of exhibits. Speaking in a casual tone is not chastised. It is a good first museum for children to visit. This, too, helps make history more accessible.
There may be a difference between art museums and history museums, but we’re not sure there should be. People should be able to argue and discuss what they are seeing.
In the case of the Tahoe exhibition, the Nevada Museum of Art was functioning as a history museum. People frequently took notes on the items they viewed. Students made repeat visits. Their tasks would have been made easier if they could have taken photos. If faded parchment or copyright was a concern, those specific exhibits could have been posted for no photos. There was no reason to shield the entire exhibition.
Having said all that, we hope the NMA is not finished with Lake Tahoe. There is still much of its story to be told. Is it possible that there is a second Tahoe exhibit in the NMA’s future?
Besides Tahoe motion pictures, there is the era of graceful development of the basin, when great estates were built and steamships crossed the lake, when lumber returned after the Comstock annihilated Tahoe’s forests, when millionaires and local families rubbed elbows at local markets and environmental despoliation was far in the future, when hustlers promoted plans to drain the lake for irrigation in Nevada or water supplies in California, when 1920s-1930s drought exposed wonderful scientific finds on the lake bottom.
People went out of Tahoe: A Visual History chattering about it. It was a joy. We hope the museum will build on the impression that exhibition made on the public by returning to the topic again.