Church History Museum temporarily closing its doors

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Stephanie Dawson, administrator and project manager for the Church History Museum, poses with a floor model of renovations the museum will undergo in the next year. Artifacts from current exhibits will be put into storage temporarily or put on loan to various museums in the area. (Ali Noorda)

SALT LAKE CITY — After 30 years of art, artifacts and historical documents, and an estimated 7.5 million visitors, the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City closed its doors Oct. 6 for a year-long renovation to its first-floor exhibition space.

The new exhibit, “The Heavens are Opened,” will replace “A Covenant Restored” and will focus exclusively on Church history from the time period of its founding in western New York to its exodus in Nauvoo, Illinois. While favorite artifacts will remain, those dating from Church history after the Nauvoo period will be put into storage until a later date.

“Basically, we are taking more space to tell more of the story so we can go deeper into some topics, such as the translation of the Book of Mormon,” explained Alan Johnson, Church History Museum director. “(The renovation is) really to tell the same story in a new way.”

The year-long renovation will also reconfigure the museum store and lobby, allowing more usable space and hopefully making the entrance a little more welcoming, Johnson said.

Visitors who resonate with favorite items such as the death masks of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum have no need to worry, said Stephanie Dawson, an administrator and project manager for the Church History Museum. The sunstone from the Nauvoo Temple also has a guaranteed spot in the new exhibit.

“The star objects that are currently out will make an appearance again,” Johnson said. He said the museum will continue to be a mix of artifacts, art and documents, along with some carefully selected media elements. One of these elements includes a brand-new, 270-degree circle-vision theater system.

“We have heard that some people have been concerned that we’re going to go too far into the media and not really be a museum, but more of an entertainment center or a visitors center,” Johnson said. “That’s not the case. (Media elements) will just enhance the museum experience. It will still be artifact- and art-rich.”

The building housing the Church History Museum has not received any renovations or remodels since its opening in 1984. Although this building served as the first official Church History Museum, Dawson said various buildings and locations have served a similar purpose since the late 1800s.

Johnson suggested that while the building is closed, potential visitors instead direct themselves to the Church History Library, which is just down the street. The Library recently unveiled a brand-new exhibit, “Foundations of Faith,” including documents such as original Book of Mormon transcripts and letters from Liberty Jail.

The Church History Museum will continue an active online campaign during its renovation to highlight artifacts of the week and give visitors front-row access to construction. More information on the renovation’s progress is available at history.lds.org/section/museum.

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