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New director seeks to brand Albuquerque’s balloon museum as a nexus of technology and science

Paul Graver, the new director of the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, plans to see it concentrate on technology. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Paul Graver, the new director of the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, plans to see it concentrate on technology. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The new director of Albuquerque’s balloon museum is afraid of heights.

Although he is grounded in a career’s worth of museum experience, Paul Garver has never ridden in a balloon.

“I think the pilots are lining up to give me my first flight,” he said with a laugh.

In early October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum will launch a yearlong 10th anniversary celebration with Garver at the helm.

The director of museum services of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Holocaust Museum for 11 years, Garver now lives in Albuquerque. He’s worked as a contractor/consultant to the Holocaust Museum for five years. He moved to New Mexico to help care for his aging parents. Both his brother and sister live here.

Garver’s museum career began in 1985 when he began working in visitor services at an art museum while he attended California State University in Fullerton.

He grew up in Southern California, heading to museums in both Los Angeles and San Diego on field trips and with his family.

“I was enthralled,” he said. “I loved the history and science and historic sites.”

Post-college, he worked for the city of Fullerton as a special events and facility coordinator at the Fullerton Museum Center, later taking a job as cultural arts supervisor for the city of Chino before moving to Washington, D.C.

Garver wants to brand the balloon museum as a nexus of technology and science. By mid-December, he’ll open a weather lab designed to give visitors an immersive, interactive experience.

“There is a wind wall that will be tactile and you’ll be able to tell and sense different wind speeds,” he said.

Additional exhibits will focus on the sun, the clouds, storms and Albuquerque’s famous box, a weather phenomenon where the lowest winds move in one direction, while the higher winds blow in another.

Sometime this fall, Albuquerque will be home to a 4-D theater screening both locally produced and acquired ballooning films.

“The fourth dimension is physical sensation,” Garver said. “You’ll feel movement; you may feel a spritz of water.”

Sometime in February, visitors will see an exhibition about a 19th-century ballooning expedition to the Arctic. The show will include a late-19th-century balloon house.

Misconceptions about the museum abound, Garver said.

“We are not a museum about the balloon fiesta,” he explained. “We’re open year-round and our scope is broader.”

To differentiate itself from Albuquerque’s Museum of Natural History, the balloon museum will concentrate on science, technology, engineering and math, Garver said.

“Ballooning is transformational,” he continued. “Ballooning is a gateway to experience science and discovery. Ballooning builds community.”

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