News Column

History Center of Olmsted County gets makeover

June 21, 2014

By Bryna Godar, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

June 21--After years of the same displays filling its space on West Circle Drive, the History Center of Olmsted County is entirely renovating its exhibit hall.

The altered and refreshed space will allow for the display of more of the center's collection, which covers the county's more than 150-year history and also includes earlier Native American and Paleoindian artifacts. The redesigned space also will accommodate more visitors for lectures and programming, and it will include a changeable "period room" that will recreate a room that represents a period in local history.

And with the changes, all of the exhibitions will be redone.

"The issue is that the exhibits have not been turned around in decades, some of them. Some of them are more recent, but even the more recent ones haven't been redone since the 90s," said Curator Casey Matchern.

The museum, which was built in 1973, will reinstall some of the more broad exhibitions and will add new ones that incorporate stories representing a more diverse Rochester and Olmsted County than had been presented previously.

Research is underway for all of the new exhibits, a process that can take months or, for some museums with the luxury of time, years, said Matchern, who has been with the museum since August 2013.

"Since I've been here, I've been getting ideas based upon the objects that are in the collection and seeing the needs that we have on the exhibit floor, things that are missing that need to be represented," she said. "The objects really do the job of determining what is going to be on exhibit. It's sort of an organic process."

Right now, the xxxx-square-foot exhibition space is stripped of all but one exhibit, leaving bare gray walls and a few empty display cases.

Discussion of the renovation began in February, and demolition took place in early June.

The renovation is being completed almost entirely from donations -- of time, materials and money. Local professionals have changed out lighting fixtures, and businesses have donated sheet rock and paint.

Executive Director Lisa Baldus declined to provide a cost estimate for the project, but she said she plans to have the entire renovation covered by donations.

"I can't tell you how much this is going to cost," Baldus said. "Right now the cost is minimal because of everybody who has stepped up, and businesses in the community. I have been extremely lucky, and if I've had to go out and get something, I've gone to individuals to see can you cover the cost of this door, or plywood for the decking area."

One exhibit is still on display throughout the renovation: "The Evolution of Women's Gowns: A 150 Year Photographic Illustration of Changing Erotic Zones." Admission has been reduced from $5 to $2 for adults, and it's free for children under 12.

On Thursday, however, the lighting was dim as some of the fixtures awaited new LED bulbs to replace the fluorescent lighting. That change throughout the museum will make it more efficient, and the newer track lighting will allow for better and more flexible lighting for displays, Baldus said. She also will work to incorporate multimedia components in the exhibit, such as talking displays and voice projections.

"People learn from all their senses -- the more that you can involve a person in an exhibit and using all their senses, the more they're able to take away from it," Baldus said. "This is a learning, educational facility as much as it is a museum."

The center will have a soft opening at the end of July for all the volunteers who have helped, and a grand opening will be set in September in conjunction with a scavenger hunt and fundraiser. Not all of the exhibits will be up at that point, she said, but she hopes to be able to finish it off with the fundraiser.

"It's something that museums need to do in order to survive," Matchern said. "If you have the same exhibits and you don't change them, you're not going to get a new audience -- people won't come back because there's nothing new to see ... And, beyond that, it's a matter of doing our job and upholding our ethical responsibility to represent the community and to preserve and care for the collection."


To support the renovation

If you are interested in donating time, materials or money for the renovation, contact the History Center of Olmsted County at:


History Center of Olmsted County

1195 W Circle Drive S.W.

Rochester, MN 55902


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Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)

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