After almost 30 years of planning and preparation, the city of Chandler constructed a building worthy of housing Chandler’s many diverse stories.
Drivers flying down Chandler Village Drive from the Loop 202 may have noticed a new, modern-looking building just north of Chandler Fashion Center Mall. The small piece of land squashed between the mall and Price Park is now home to the Chandler Museum, the first permanent museum for the city.
Tiffani Egnor, the curator of education at the museum, said this is a much-needed addition. “I feel like Chandler and the east Valley as a whole is lacking in cultural opportunities,” she says.
While Chandler boasts other cultural experiences, this museum is the first permanent place for Chandler to share its history. Egnor leads the museum's educational initiatives, including adult and child programming. The new museum includes a dedicated classroom, which is something Egnor says they didn’t have before.
“We’d actually move the walls the morning of the program and shift it so we had space for the kids to come in,” she says. “Having a classroom not in the exhibit space really gives us the chance to do so many more programs than we ever could before.”
One of the new programs is History Bites: Lunch Time Talks, which is a monthly adult program that runs on Tuesdays at noon. Each program lasts for 30 minutes and highlights an area of Chandler history, from spring training to the Great Depression era.
In May, the discussion will be “Land Sale Day: 100 Years of Celebrating the Wrong Day,” which goes into depth about the founding day of Chandler.
“For nearly 100 years, we were celebrating the wrong day because it was misprinted in the newspaper,” Egnor says.
The founding day of Chandler is referring to the date that Dr. A.J. Chandler opened an office to officially sell land in Chandler. The date was May 16, but one newspaper made an error and wrote May 17. “One paper … said May 17, and that’s what was in the memories of Chandler residents moving forward,” Egnor says.
Around Chandler’s centennial in 2012, museum staff members did more research and stumbled across multiple other newspapers that printed May 16, Egnor says. Since then, they have been celebrating the founding of Chandler on the correct day.
In addition to programming, the museum also has a dedicated exhibit space at the east end of the building. One current exhibit is called “Gaman,” which depicts the life of Japanese people during World War II in the Gila River internment camp.
“Gaman is a Japanese word that means enduring the seemingly impossible with dignity and grace,” Egnor says.
Visitors can see artifacts from the time period and recreations of key pieces such as identification tags. The exhibit will be open until April 2020.
The Chandler Museum is constantly evolving and does not have a permanent exhibit, says Jody Crago, museum administrator. He says it draws people back to the museum on a regular basis and allows them to display more of their collection.
“We have our exhibition schedule in such a way that it allows a person to come about once a quarter and they’ll see a completely different experience,” Crago says.
Many of the other city museums around the Phoenix area include both a permanent display and a traveling one, according to Crago. He says he wants people to see that Chandler is an ever-evolving place, and the temporary exhibits show that. With a small staff, he says it can be tricky.
“The challenge there is that you are constantly trying to develop big, local exhibits that allow you to tell a story a little bit deeper than you would in a permanent gallery,” Crago says.
In addition to the exhibit space, the museum also has a long hallway that is filled with pictures of Chandler. The photos are meant to represent the people, places, and events of the city while documenting its diversity.
“You could never tell the story of Chandler in just 44 photos, so even those photos are designed so they can change periodically, and you can put other stories into those same frames,” Crago says.
The path to building a permanent museum was filled with challenges that led to an almost 10-year delay on the project. Crago moved from Chicago to Chandler in November 2007 to assist in the building of the museum. The recession hit and put the entire project on hold.
“I think for so long the idea was out there: 'Well, someday, we’re going to build a museum and it’s going to be great,'” Crago says.
It wasn’t until October 2017 that the city of Chandler broke ground on the new museum. Since opening in December 2018, Crago says the museum has seen a huge outpouring of support from the community.
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“We say this is the community’s museum because it was asked for by the community and it was then built by the community,” Crago says.
There has been a 700 percent increase in visitors compared to the old Chandler museum, according to Crago. The community wanted more arts and culture in addition to history and they delivered it in abundance, Crago says.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’ve lived here eight months or 88 years, there’s a place for you to put your stuff, a place for you to have your story told,” Crago says. “(It’s) a place where you can not only learn about the community that you’re living in, but you can see yourself in.”
Chandler Museum, 300 South Chandler Village Drive, Chandler. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, go to chandleraz.gov/museum.