News Column

A change of space for Mathers

August 17, 2014

By Marci Creps, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

Aug. 17--Summer is often a time for people to refresh themselves before school starts, and at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, it was a time to redesign its exhibition space.

Jason Baird Jackson, director of the museum, said the exhibit space now includes movable walls that makes the space more flexible.

On Thursday, the space was still in a state of transition. Walls were in place and exhibits were being installed. But there was still plenty of work to be done.

Because the space can now easily be divided, Jackson said it will be easy to adapt to more frequent changes. Previously, the exhibit space was three big rectangular areas.

The idea to change the space came about through a series of events starting with the museum's celebration of its 50th anniversary in 2013. At that time, Indiana University asked Jackson and the museum staff to go through a strategic planning process.

Through meetings with staff and the museum's board, a strategic plan was formulated. A campus strategic plan was next with the museum moving to align with the campus plan.

"By wintertime, we had spent a year thinking about our future and what our plans would be," Jackson said.

When the idea to upgrade the exhibit space came to the forefront, there were two directions for the museum. One idea would be to raise money and spend a few years working with architects to upgrade the area.

But Jackson said the sentiment was that the work couldn't wait. So with help from the staff, which includes a cabinetmaker and carpenter, work began this summer. The museum closed its doors so that the exhibits could be stored while the work was done.

"The results are what we need," Jackson said.

The space has also been redesigned to create the DeVault Teaching Gallery. Jackson said there are times when area professors and teachers want to study items in the museum's collections. Making those items available could be difficult with time and space constraints.

With the new teaching gallery, museum staff can display the requested items in a space that also allows the students room to work.

"We now have the flexibility designed to help people who want to use our collection to do it more easily," Jackson said.

Learning will also be made easier with the installation of the IQ-Wall. Developed by the UITS Advanced Visualization Lab with help from the IU Libraries, the 12 high-resolution monitors will help project images for talks and workshops. With a total of 12.5 million pixels, it also gives staff the ability to project items and study the small details.

When the museum reopens on Tuesday, visitors will get a chance to see six new exhibits. Three food-related exhibits work with IU's Themester, which this year is titled "Eat, Drink, Think: Food From Art to Science."

The exhibit "In Their Own Words: Native Americans in World War I" opened prior to the closing of the exhibit space. And the "Thoughts, Things and Theories ... What Is Culture?" exhibit has been on display for some time, though it has been recurated.

"'What is Culture' is back but all new," Jackson said.

Other new exhibits include "Instruments of Culture," featuring musical instruments from around the globe and "State of an Art: Women's Wall Painting in Ghana," which features the tradition of wall paintings in Ghana'sUpper East Region.

The last minute scurry to set up the exhibition space wasn't helped by a series of mechanical issues that knocked out the building's air and heating units. Having no air conditioning came at a bad time since the building isn't equipped to allow outside air to flow in and provide some cooling.

But if there was a silver lining, it would be that the museum's artifacts weren't on display. Because the collections were in storage in a "concrete fortress," the items were safe from the extreme temperature change. Of course, the staff wasn't so lucky, but they pushed through the uncomfortable environment.

"We care more about the collection than we do our own sweaty selves," Jackson said.

With a series of workshops, classes and events scheduled for the new space, Jackson said people will have lots of new experiences with the museum, even if they have been to exhibits in the past.

Plus the museum is poised to embrace the university's desire to make experiences richer for those who come to campus.

"It's going to be a good year for us," Jackson said.

If you go

On Tuesday, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures will reopen. Located at 416 N. Indiana Avenue, the museum is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Admission is free with free visitor parking available by the Indiana Avenue lobby entrance. On the weekend, there is free parking available on surrounding streets.


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Source: Herald-Times (Bloomington, IN)

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