Mark Hall-Patton on the role of Museums in Las Vegas



Mark Hall-Patton, or HP as we like to call him, is the director of Clark County Museums (yes, museums as in more than one).  He oversees the Clark County Museum on Boulder Highway, the Howard Cannon Aviation Museum at McCarran Airport and the Searchlight Museum.

In addition, he is a local historian, author and the moderator of the monthly County Centennial panel discussions that are held on First Friday at 6:00 pm in the Commission Chambers (and broadcast throughout the month on Channel 4).

Our pal, Kristen Peterson, sat down with HP for an interview:

With budgets pared to bare essentials, museums are feeling the pressure.

Mark Hall-Patton, administrator of the Clark County Museum and the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum, and president of the Nevada Museums Association, discussed the museums’ purpose.

How did museums originate?

Museums came out of what were called cabinets of curiosities in the Renaissance. People would collect odd little items — metals, sea shells, relics from the saints. These showed how erudite you were. In the 18th century, collections of kings and queens became open to the public. Eventually there was the idea that materials of value could be held on behalf of someone.

Why a museum?

The role of the museums is to tell the story you’re empowered to tell. It’s not a museum unless it’s held in the public trust for the public. The collection here is held by the county for the people. There is a requirement to care for it to the best of your ability. There are a lot of laws that affect museum collections and how you deal with them. My job is to keep up with those laws.

What about when people say museums are a waste of public money?

I’ve never heard that. I’ve had people ask what we do with the money and if we need that much money. I don’t know that anybody has ever said, “You’re wasting money on your institution.”

We’re taking care of things. We’re an informational repository. We understand the value of the artifact in teaching.

What’s your role here?

We make a mistake if we think that people come to Southern Nevada to go to museums. What bothers me is when I hear someone who has been here 20 or 30 years say, “We have a county museum?”

What drives museum workers?

Folks who get into museum work do it because they are called to it. For many, at some point in their young lives, they made a connection with a thing that helped them understand the world around them. When I was 8 I used to build museums on my patio. I would set up everything old that was in the house and give tours to my friends.

Will museums in Nevada survive this economy?

We’ll get through it. I’ve been through this before.