Culture club

People gather at Sunlight Sports before heading next door to the Cody Theatre for a Cody Culture Club program about place names in the Big Horn Basin on Feb. 13, 2020.

In its 13th year, minus time off during the pandemic, the Cody Culture Club has broadened its mission, extended its boundaries and tweaked its programs. 

Rather than focusing solely on the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, its initial goal, the club now schedules two of its four winter/spring gatherings outside the museum. Last month, participants traveled to Powell for an astronomy presentation at Northwest College, with breaks for outdoor gazing at the night sky. The upcoming program on March 10 will take place in downtown Cody (see info box).

Also, rather than offering just lecture-style programs, the CCC committee strives to include a participatory element along with the educational component. The audience at the January presentation on the Draper Museum’s map heard about wildlife migrations and then played a version of Jeopardy that featured answers soliciting natural-history questions. 

“The Cody Culture Club is one of the best things you can do on a cold winter’s eve,” committee member Karen McWhorter commented. “The programs are rooted in great content. They’re equal parts educational and entertaining.”

Initially, Carlene Lebous, who inspired the idea for the club, envisioned it as a means of attracting a different demographic to the Center, those with active careers and little time – “how to reach out and engage a younger audience in the museum in the winter months,” as she said.  The programs would take advantage of the offerings in the Center, which she called “a treasure we have in our backyard.”

The club would offer a series of programs focused on the culture of Cody through the museum’s collections, Lebous added. She recruited Sue Simpson Gallagher and Vickery Fales Hall to form a small committee and launch the effort, with support from the Center.

The success of the first events showed that other demographics wanted to participate, so the programs and attendance grew, Lebous said. Then, about seven years ago, the committee decided to branch out into the community and connect with it by hosting two venues outside the Center. 

“The community’s support has been tremendous,” she said. “The small committee has grown. It’s a wonderful group of museum and community leaders that brought this program together.”

Where the programs go is up to the committee, Lebous added.

In order to convey the history and vibrancy of the town and to reflect the diversity of the programs, the committee felt it was important to meet outside the Center, McWhorter explained. The members also decided to gather input from the participants by conducting a survey in 2018-2019, soliciting suggested topics and reactions to past topics.

“We polled our regular guests because the programs are for them,” she said. “We got good results and incorporated the ideas into our planning.”

Another factor is coordinating programs with timely events, McWhorter said. For example, two of this year’s topics deal with Yellowstone National Park, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. 

The club also expanded its boundaries this year. While members had traveled to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center six years ago, they traveled further last month for an astronomy program at Northwest College.

“We extended to Powell this year,” McWhorter said. “We felt it was important to connect the corridor to Northwest College. I love brainstorming projects and ideas.

“We’re trying to become more informal and participatory.”

Feedback about programs and ideas is always welcome. “It’s really great when we hear what people want,” McWhorter noted. One idea under consideration is focusing on outdoor recreation, which has strong advocates in the community and received positive reviews after the program about place names held at Sunlight Sports and Cody Theatre in 2020.

“That one was a lot of fun,” said Trent Agee, who recently joined the committee.  “I’m interested in everything, and I really enjoy the committee.”

As far as other, future topics, he suggested programs about new projects could offer insights, such as the Absaroka Fence Initiative and university research at the Center. He also hopes to continue including engaging activities with the programs and to build on the connection with NWC.

“The beauty of the program is it’s during the time of year when Cody is kind of quiet,” Agee added. “It’s an opportunity to get out and appreciate your neighbors more.”

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