Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

Museums challenged to exhibit more relevance, problem solving

Debbie Sommer, Greeley, holds her 2-month-old son, Caleb, while viewing a polar bear exhibit in Kansas University's Natural History Museum in this June 2007 file photo.

Debbie Sommer, Greeley, holds her 2-month-old son, Caleb, while viewing a polar bear exhibit in Kansas University's Natural History Museum in this June 2007 file photo.

June 14, 2007

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Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo.Sophia Ralston, 5, left and Ben Bogart, 3, both of Shawnee, view the Xiphactinus molossus fossil exhibit at KU's Natural History Museum.

Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo.Sophia Ralston, 5, left and Ben Bogart, 3, both of Shawnee, view the Xiphactinus molossus fossil exhibit at KU's Natural History Museum.

The diorama of animals on display on the first floor of the Natural History Museum at Kansas University isn't exactly cutting-edge technology, but that's OK with James Wabaunsee.

"I'm old-fashioned, so I think it's cool," said Wabaunsee, a 36-year-old Topeka resident who took his nieces to the museum Wednesday.

In some ways, the diorama, which began as a demonstration of taxidermy in the 1890s, shows the kinds of challenges facing natural history museums. The head of KU's museum said that institutions must find new ways to become relevant to the public - or risk extinction.

"Most of us are prisoners of history. We have wonderful, old, venerated exhibits," said Leonard Krishtalka, director of KU's Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute. "Although these dioramas are wonderful and they're great works of art, there's a lot more to learn than that a moose lives in the boreal forest."

Krishtalka was quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times article that questioned the future of the natural history museum and cited examples, in cities such as Milwaukee and Philadelphia, of museums that are bleeding money and being forced to cut staff or sell collections. What's at stake, Krishtalka said, is the possibility of losing the valuable information represented by "300 years of the biological exploration of the planet."

Despite the grim picture in other places, Krishtalka said KU's museum, which has a $2.8 million annual state budget, is fundamentally strong and is positioned to remain a leader in the field. While some museums rely heavily on collecting dollars at the door, the formula for success at KU and other state-affiliated museums is driven more by how much grant funding and top-flight researchers the museum can attract.

He said KU has the biggest "biodiversity science education" program in the country, both in terms of the number of students and in terms of external grant funding. Their work may not necessarily be on display for museum-goers to see.

For example, this week Krishtalka is traveling to Washington, D.C., to make a pitch for funding to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a potential study on where avian flu likely would enter the country and from what kinds of species.

"We're the only place in the country that's doing this kind of predictive modeling using biodiversity data," Krishtalka said.

He said, "The smart universities will recognize that the 21st century is the century of the environment, and the information housed in those museums is going to be the critical currency for solutions to environmental challenges. Fortunately, the University of Kansas is one of those, and we will do well."

Jerry Choate, director of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History at Fort Hays State University, said he decided long ago to charge admission at the museum so that he wouldn't be as dependent on state support. That means the museum can suffer when the economy dips, such as after Sept. 11.

Choate said his museum tries to put on exhibits that show how biology connects with other fields, such as an upcoming "Scaly Movie" exhibit that aims to debunk reptile myths perpetuated by movies.

"I don't see doom and gloom," Choate said. "I agree with (Krishtalka) that a lot of museums have bucked the tide by expanding their horizons."

Comments

Ragingbear 8 years, 1 month ago

OK, whoever made that Polar Bear model in the picture needs to go back to school and learn how to make a proper facsimile of such an animal. If it looks this bad in a picture, I shudder to think how bad it looks in real life.

And we wonder why museum attendance is so low.

lunacydetector 8 years, 1 month ago

...or there is always Cabela's. they have an excellent polar bear - paid for by the taxpayers i believe.

$2.8 million annual budget? THAT seems extreme. $2.8 million is a lot of money. I'd like to know where all that money is being spent - that's only $53,846 per week! holy crap.

jennyk 8 years, 1 month ago

That polar bear is a 100-yr-old taxidermied, real bear. If you feel the need to sit around all day waiting for articles and pictures to pick apart, at least get your facts straight. The animals in the museum's panorama were mostly caught and stuffed by Lewis Lindsay Dyche, the man the bulding is named after. The animals were showcased at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, and he really helped to put KU's science departments on the map.

Hey, here's an idea, maybe you should actually get off your ass and VISIT the museum instead of using the internet as an outlet for your low-mindedness

oldvet 8 years, 1 month ago

I take my grandsons there several times each year... they love to see the animals and being able to touch some of the exhibits makes it even more fun for them. I use the museum to spark their interests in the various things and if we want to learn more, we get a book at the library to read together or get online for more info. It is a great place to visit!

trinity 8 years, 1 month ago

jennyk you are my hero-i wholeheartedly agree with your post.

grimpeur 8 years, 1 month ago

A baby polar bear asks his dad one day: "Dad, am I a polar bear?"

The father bear replies, "Why yes, son, you're a polar bear."

"And Mom? Is she a polar bear, too?"

"Why don't you go ask her yourself?" And so the baby bear goes to his mother.

"Mom, am I a polar bear?

The mother bear replies, "Why yes, son, you're a polar bear."

"And you and Dad are both polar bears, too?"

"Yes we are, son. And grandma and grandpa are polar bears, too. We're all polar bears. Why do you ask?"

And the baby bear replies, "Because I am frickin' FREEZING."

Thanks to J. Katz.

Staci Dark Simpson 8 years, 1 month ago

I agree with Jenny. I still love the diorama. To me its amazing this taxidermy was done so long ago and is still around. My son loves watching for the prairie dog to pop out. They also have a great selection of dinosaur bones. I don't really like the evolution floor though, but since its at KU what do you expect?

Oracle_of_Rhode 8 years, 1 month ago

RE: "The animals in the museum's panorama were mostly caught and stuffed by Lewis Lindsay Dyche, the man the building is named after."

--

Good thing he didn't have to kill 'em!

minko224 8 years, 1 month ago

It takes quite a fetish to stuff that many animals.

Bradley Kemp 8 years, 1 month ago

Lunacy:

The museum's budget includes its research and collections enterprise -- which is a far larger enterprise than the public part of the museum. There are researchers doing some amazing things at the museum.

TheHeartlessBureaucrat 8 years, 1 month ago

I'm probably wrong, but...

I like a museum that has old stuff in it. Y'know, stuff you can't just go see. We have places for NEW and Current Stuff. If you're interested in seeing new and current stuff, please visit the following locations:

  1. Tired of seeing boring animals from other regions? Try going OUTSIDE. You can see lots of house cats, dogs, cattle...sheep here and there. And from the comfort of your own home you can probably see ants.

  2. Ancient and extinct cultures getting on your nerves? Head down town. Lots of humans of all walks of life. Some might even interact with you.

  3. Do dinosaur bones and other extinct fauna remains have you yawning? Looking for something more relevant? Then head down to Crestline, south of Holcolmb park. There was a dead cottontail rabbit in the street that I saw while riding my bike last night. Hurry, it might not be there long.

There's a place for the new stuff...and there's a place for the old stuff. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying but museums are for preserving what is fading into memory. Maybe this isn't for everyone, but its nice to have someplace that shows us what we were. It helps define what we are.

THB

Confrontation 8 years, 1 month ago

I agree with you, jennyk. Although, I prefer to have those complainers go and find these animals in the wild (unarmed).

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