Incorporated in 1971, the Western Heritage Center began as a community center displaying a private collection of western artifacts in the historic library building. We’ve added outreach programs and walking tours, changing interactive exhibits, twelve traveling displays, a collection of over 400 oral histories and 40,000 historic artifacts and photographs. The museum strives to incorporate original research into all its exhibits and programs. The Western Heritage Center is one of six Montana museums accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. A former affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, we adhere to national exhibit and archival standards. The museum is located at 2822 Montana Avenue in downtown Billings and housed in the Parmly Billings Memorial Library building (built in 1901). The building, our home base, is a beautiful Romanesque sandstone structure with twin towers that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Western Heritage Center staff, board, and volunteers are engaged in offering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people, places, and historical events of south-central and southeastern Montana. We do this by implementing comprehensive arts and humanities projects, programs, and exhibits based on broad regional interest and need. Working closely with local cultural partners and businesses, the museum board and staff view the museum as a center for regional engagement.
The museum is governed by a Board of Directors of 10 members serving three-year terms who meet monthly. Our annual operational budget of $290,000. The museum has a staff of six and a dedicated core of volunteers and interns. We are especially grateful for the on-going support from Yellowstone County and its taxpayers. We give additional thanks to our museum members, sponsors of our programs and exhibits, community partners, granting agencies, and visitors to the museum.
All of the resources at the Western Heritage Center (WHC) are used for preserving and sharing the history of south-central and south-eastern Montana. For Montanans (and our Wyoming friends), we consistently present new research and programs about the people, places, and events immediate to us. This informs us of the richness of our regional history – making us more mindful of our own home. Travelers visit us to learn the history of the Yellowstone River Valley, giving them a base for which to explore further. In the simplest terms, we strive to make people feel more at home (warts and all). As a proactive institution, we identify community needs early and seize opportunities that allow us to serve our visitors and community to the best of our ability. We emphasize the need for solid research and being engaged with our community. Kevin Kooistra, Executive Director