Director of Arizona Historical Society shares that they do more than what meets the eye


TED SIMONS: THE ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY IS THE STEWART OF STATE HISTORY, BUT MUCH OF WHAT THE SOCIETY ACTUALLY DOES IS NOT ALL THAT WELL KNOWN. HERE TO TRY TO CHANGE THAT AND TALK ABOUT THE SOCIETY AND ITS MISSION, IS JAMES BURNS, THE NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY. WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON."
JAMES BURN: THANK YOU, TED.
TED SIMONS: FIRST OF ALL, WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS JOB?
JAMES BURN: I HAVE LOVED ARIZONA HISTORY ALMOST 30 YEARS I HAVE BEEN HERE NOW. EVERYTHING I HAVE DONE IN MY CAREER HAS LED UP TO THIS POINT. I DID MY UNDERGRADUATE WORK AT UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA, AND WENT TO ARIZONA STATE AND A MASTERS IN PUBLIC HISTORY. A COLLEAGUE REMINDED ME THAT I BOLDLY SAID IN GRADUATE SCHOOL SUNDAY I WANTED TO BE THE ARIZONA STATE HISTORIAN. WELL NOBODY CAN BE MARSHALL. THIS IS THE NEXT BEST THING.
TED SIMONS: NOT A LOT OF FOLKS WANT TO BE THE STATE HISTORIAN.
JAMES BURN: I HAVE HAD A PASSION FOR HISTORY. I’M ONE OF THE FEW PEOPLE I KNOW BECAUSE I WENT TO THE MUSEUM BY DESIGN RATHER THAN CHANCE.
TED SIMONS: WHAT IS THE ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY AND WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE ORGANIZATION?
JAMES BURN: WE ARE MORE THAN ONE MUSEUM. WE ARE 12 DIFFERENT HISTORIC SITES AND MUSEUMS SPREAD ACROSS THE STATE, YUMA, FLAG STAFF, DOUGLAS AND STRAWBERRY. WE HAVE A PUBLICATION'S DIVISION, AND A VERY ROBUST LIBRARY AND ARCHIVE. MY VISION FOR THE SOCIETY IS FOR IT TO BECOME FIRST AND FOREMOST AN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION. SECOND, YOU WILL SEE US BECOMING INCLUSIVE, AND YOU WILL SEE A UNIFIED MESSAGE. PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THAT WE ARE IN ALL OF THE SITES AROUND THE STATE.
TED SIMONS: THAT'S WHY WE WANTED YOU ON. PEOPLE DON'T KNOW. THEY MAY SEE A BUILDING OR TWO. WE KNOW ABOUT HISTORY TO A CERTAIN DEGREE. DO YOU HAVE EXHIBITS? PROGRAMS? HOW DOES IT WORK?
JAMES BURN AT ALL OF THE SITES WE HAVE EXHIBITS, PROGRAMS, VARIOUS ACTIVITIES. FOR EXAMPLE, JUST A COUPLE OF WEEKS WE HAVE COMING UP IN FLAG STAFF AT OUR PIONEER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, THE WOOL FESTIVAL.
TED SIMONS: WHAT IS THAT?
JAMES BURN: IT'S BASICALLY TEACHING PEOPLE, YOU KNOW, WHERE WOOL COMES FROM. HOW THAT ENDS UP BEING YOUR CLOTHING.
TED SIMONS: AND THE HISTORY OF WOOL IN ARIZONA.
JAMES BURN: RIGHT. PEOPLE THINK OF CATTLE RANCHING IN ARIZONA. THERE ARE A LOT OF SHEEP RANCHING THAT GOES ON TOO.
TED SIMONS: UNDERSERVED GROUPS, THAT'S A BIG FOCUS FOR THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. TALK ABOUT THAT.
JAMES BURN: HISTORY IS OUR COLLECTIVE STORIES. I THINK MUSEUMS ACROSS THE BOARD, ACROSS THE NATION, HAVE NOT ALWAYS DONE THE BEST JOB OF TELLING THE GROUPS OF VARIOUS COMMUNITIES. WE ARE AWARE OF THAT. YOU ARE GOING TO SEE A LOT MORE INCLUSION IN OUR PROGRAMMING EXHIBITIONS.
TED SIMONS: WHERE DOES THE FUNDING FOR THE ARIZONA HISTORICAL COME FROM?
JAMES BURN: WE ARE 2/3 FUNDED BY THE STATE OF ARIZONA. WE WERE CREATED BY LEGISLATION PASSED BY THE TERRITORIAL LEGISLATURE IN 1864, MAKING US THE OLDEST AND LARGEST HISTORICAL INSTITUTION IN THE STATE.
TED SIMONS: THAT'S INTERESTING. THAT FAR BACK?
JAMES BURN: THERE'S AN ARGUMENT ABOUT IF WE ARE THAT OLD. I LOOKED TO WHEN THE LEGISLATION WAS WRITTEN. WHEN DID WE START COLLECTING, IT WAS THE 1890S.
TED SIMONS: BE THAT AS IT MAY, WHAT DO YOU GET FROM THE STATE, PHILANTHROPY, WHOLE NINE YARDS?
JAMES BURN: APPROPRIATION IS NORTH OF 3,000,000 AND WE RAISE THE OTHER THIRD THROUGH EARNED INCOME OR FROM FUNDRAISING WRAPPING UP SUBSTANTIALLY.
TED SIMONS: HOW DO YOU RAMP UP -- WHAT DO YOU TELL FOLKS? YOU SAY THE ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY WANTS YOU?
JAMES BURN: IT TALKS ABOUT BEING INCLUSIVE AND REDOUBLING OUR FOCUS ON EDUCATION, AND THEN NUMBER TWO, HAVING A COMPELLING CASE STATEMENT. IT TAKES A PROJECT THAT PEOPLE WANT TO GIVE TO. I THINK A BIG CAPITAL CAMPAIGN IS ON THE HORIZON.
TED SIMONS: BIGGEST CHALLENGE? FUNDRAISING?
JAMES BURNS: I'M GOING TO SAY FOR US, IT'S COMMUNICATION. IT'S GETTING THE WORD OUT THERE ABOUT WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO.WE ONCE HAD 120 STAFF AROUND THE STATE. WE NOW HAVE 38.
TED SIMONS: WELL, IS THAT GOING TO CHANGE?
JAMES BURNS: I SURE HOPE IT DOES. I THINK YOU WILL SEE A FOCUS MORE ON OUTREACH. YOU ARE GOING TO SEE US BECOMING MORE OF AN OUTWARD FACING INSTITUTION.
TED SIMONS: FOR SOMEONE INTERESTED IN THE ARIZONA HISTORY, THEY GO TO A MUSEUM. WHAT SHOULD THEY EXPECT TO SEE?
JAMES BURNS: FIRST AND FOREMOST, THEY SHOULD EXPECT TO FEEL WELCOME WHEN THEY COME IN THE DOOR. I THINK IF NOT LITERALLY, FIGURATIVELY IN SOME WAY THAT THEY CAN CONNECT TO, THEY SHOULD SEE THAT BELONG THERE. WE ARE TELLING THEIR STORY TOO.
TED SIMONS: ALL RIGHT, JAMES BURNS ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY. GOOD LUCK TO YOU. THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

James Burns, the new Executive Director of the Arizona Historical Society, shares the society’s mission and how they benefit the community is ways that are not widely known.

Burns says he’s been a fan of Arizona history since he moved here 30 years ago. Everything he’s done in his career has led up to earning this position as executive director, he says.

The Arizona Historical Society is comprised of 12 historic sites and museums spread across the state from Tucson to Flagstaff. They also have a publications division and a librarian archives.

“My vision for the society is for it to become first and foremost an educational institution,” Burns says. “Second, I think you will see us become more inclusive. You’ll see a more unified message.”

All of the sites are homes to exhibits, programs and various activities. Burns gives the example of an activity coming up in Flagstaff called the Wool Festival. It’s an event that will teach people where wool comes from and how it ends up in your closet.

“History is our collective stories,” Burns says. “I think museums across the board and across the nation haven’t always done the best job of telling the stories of all the groups in various communities. We’re very much aware of that. You’re going to see a lot more inclusion in our programming and exhibitions.”

The historical society was created by the legislature in 1864 which makes it the oldest and largest historical institution in the state. Two-thirds of the society continues to be funded by the state, while the rest is covered by earned income or through fundraising.

For someone who is interested in Arizona history and the museums, Burns says they should expect to feel welcomed as they walk through the door. They should be able to feel that their story is being told, too.

For more information on the Arizona Historical Society visit arizonahistoricalsociety.org.

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James Burns: Executive Director, Arizona Historical Society

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