While shifting oversight of the archaeological collections that once were part of Kansas University's Museum of Anthropology, KU officials shouldn't overlook opportunities to provide the public more access both to the artifacts and to the historic building in which they are housed.
KU closed the Museum of Anthropology in 2002 as a cost-cutting measure. The name was changed to the Anthropological Research and Cultural Collections and the collections, which include about a million archaeological artifacts, continue to be used behind the scenes by researchers and students. However, there are no public displays in Spooner Hall, where the collection is housed.
This is a huge loss to the public. Not only did the anthropology museum offer interesting insights, particularly concerning indigenous peoples, it also gave the public an opportunity to enjoy one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings on the KU campus.
Management of the archaeological collections has been turned over to KU's Biodiversity Institute, which also oversees the Museum of Natural History, one of the state's biggest tourist attractions. The displays in Dyche Hall do a wonderful job of interpreting the natural world for the public, and set a good example for similar exhibits of artifacts from the anthropology museum.
Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Biodiversity Institute, noted the many opportunities the merger would provide "to KU faculty and students and to scholars worldwide." That certainly is an important part of the university's mission. However, the move also should provide many opportunities for university outreach to members of the public who are interested archaeology, art, indigenous nations and other topics - another important mission for KU.
Spooner Hall, which previously housed KU's art museum, is a wonderful building that should be put to some public use. Its location directly across the street from Dyche Hall makes it a perfect spot to extend public displays and programs connected with the Natural History Museum or other aspects of the Biodiversity Institute.
During this time of transition, KU officials should look at more ways not only to promote student and faculty research but to share some of the university's knowledge and artifacts with campus visitors.