Museum plan seeks to connect with area

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The plans for the new River Campus museum are interesting, even in their preliminary stages. The proposed museum would be a part of Southeast Missouri State University's School of Performing and Visual Arts -- called the River Campus -- to be built on the site of the former St. Vincent's Seminary on property overlooking the Mississippi River.

The existing University Museum is one of the university's best-kept secrets as the result of a variety of circumstances.

It is virtually hidden in Memorial Hall on the main campus, not one of the better-known buildings.

It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays, which aren't very convenient hours for a lot of potential visitors.

And if anyone decides to go to the museum during the week, parking is virtually impossible, a problem shared by almost every location on campus.

No wonder fewer than 7,800 people visited the museum's exhibits last year.

But that could change when the museum is relocated to the new River Campus. A master plan that cost $185,000 from Lord Cultural Resources of Toronto calls for a $5.7 museum that includes a children's gallery with hands-on learning, a section for regional history and space for traveling or temporary displays.

The River Campus Board of Managers, appointed by the city and university to oversee their respective interests at the campus, considered the plan last week. Reaction was generally favorable, although Ronald Clayton, chairman of the university's art department, would like to see more space for traveling exhibits.

At this point, the plan allocates more space for regional history exhibits than traveling exhibits of fine art. That is intended to give area residents more of a sense of ownership of the new museum. The history component and the children's gallery create reasons for repeat visits to the museum.

But the plan is also inclusive, so there will be fine art for people who appreciate and enjoy it.

Consultants have suggested displays that emphasize the Mississippi River's effect on the region. Other displays could explain the Civil War events that played out in the area, the devastating earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 and the Little River Drainage District, one of the largest swamp-clearing projects in history.

In that way, consultants say, the museum can attract 32,000 visitors in a year instead of the current low attendance. And the museum could be open by the spring of 2005.

The details aren't all worked out, including what exactly would be in the children's museum and whether the display would be frequently changed, a must for keeping youngsters interested.

University Museum director Stanley Grand is correct to say the plan is a fluid thing. It is not very detailed. It hasn't yet been approved by the Board of Regents.

Now is the time for everyone with an interest to weigh in so that area residents get the most for their taxpayer dollars.

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