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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 25 June 2006

Local Museums Thriving

When was the last time you went to a local museum?  The last time you had visitors from out of town and you wanted to show off the best of Columbia?  Well, then you are cheating yourself.  Get with the program - area museums have a lot to offer, and are growing in popularity and public support, not to mention expanding their collections and exhibitions.

This trend locally is in step with how museums across are doing the country.  A recent survey of art museums in the US and Canada shows that such institutions are doing surprisingly well, according to the American Association of Museum Directors.  You can find their entire 16 page report at http://www.aamd.org/ but the synopsis is that art museums are healthy, with increased attendance, more revenue, larger staffs, greater exhibition planning, and plans for expansion.

That jibes with what is happening at Mid-Missouri museums.  Dr. Rob Havers, the Executive Director of the Churchill Memorial in Fulton says that his institution "has seen a very positive upswing in visitor attendance since we re-opened with our new exhibition in March 2006 (the 60th anniversary of the 'Sinews of Peace' address).  We have also seen a very healthy increase in both numbers of new 'Friends of the Memorial' and the willingness of existing 'Friends' to re-new at higher levels."

The University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology has an extensive new website, expanded children's summer classes, seven new exhibitions in their minigalleries, and of course one of the finest collections of Anthropological artifacts in the Midwest.  While somewhat lesser known than its sister museum (Art & Archeology) on the MU campus, this institution offers an excellent place for fun and learning for the entire family.

The Walters-Boone County Historical Museum is in the process of finalizing their new Easley store exhibition, which recreates that wonderful old country store on the grounds of the museum, part of a long range plan to create a small village of historically-notable structures.  And the museum has just finished a project in which they teamed up with the Missouri Archaeological Society to conduct another excavation of a pre-1837 blacksmith shop site at the old settlement of Lexington a few miles northeast of Rocheport.

Dr. Alex W. Barker, Director of the University of Missouri Museum of Art & Archeology, reports that "earned revenues from retail operations are up about 38% (net), and private contributions are up significantly.  For example, net revenues from the Museum's annual Paintbrush Ball were nearly double those of the previous year.  Staffing levels have increased slightly, and the allocated operating budget provided by the University has increased.  The Museum's attendance is up slightly, both in terms of overall attendance and groups."  Even more exciting, the museum is returning to its roots of supporting fieldwork, and just this week Dr. Barker has traveled to Romania, where he is codirecting a project excavating a major bronze age tell site (ca. 1800BC) along the Mures River along with US and Romanian colleagues.  Additionally, long-range planning is currently underway to consider what expansion the museum needs to make in the areas of collections facilities and exhibition spaces.

So, there's a lot going on at all our area museums, and if you haven't been to any of these institutions in a while, you should make time to go explore.  Too often it's easy to forget what gems they are, to take them for granted.

Here are links for each of the institutions in our area.  Be sure to check the website for the latest information about exhibits, hours, and admission costs (if any).

Churchill Memorial
Museum of Anthropology
Walters-Boone County Historical Museum
Museum of Art & Archeology

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all work © James T. Downey, 1993-present
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