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University of Iowa News Release

March 21, 2006

UI Museums To Focus On Education, Research In Humanities, Environment

In an effort to strengthen the role of its museums in education, research and service, the University of Iowa has refocused the missions of its two museums on the Pentacrest. Effective immediately, the Museum of Natural History and the Old Capitol Museum on the Pentacrest will be jointly administered, with the Natural History Museum focusing on nature and the environment and the Old Capitol Museum focusing on humanities and culture, said Pam Trimpe, director of the museums.

The new structure allows the museums to retain their individual identities while emphasizing their proximity and possibilities for collaborative efforts.

"These focuses are interrelated because the natural environment affects culture and human cultural attitudes affect nature," Trimpe said. "The collaboration inherent in the Natural History and Old Capitol Museums on the Pentacrest offers a unique opportunity to explore these interrelationships. Cultural and environmental diversity are two of the biggest issues in every era."

The museums will continue to offer educational and outreach programs for Iowans, especially school-aged children, Trimpe said, and will also provide UI students with educational and internship opportunities in a variety of fields including museum studies, the humanities, and environmental studies. UI faculty will also be engaged with the museums through research and exhibition development.

Willard "Sandy" Boyd, UI president emeritus and Rawlings-Miller Professor of Law, said establishing connections between the museums and the university's academic departments was crucial to their survival. UI President David Skorton appointed Boyd interim director of the Museum of Natural History and the Old Capitol Museum in February 2004 when budget constraints threatened to close both museums. Operating in tandem, the museums will become "even more relevant to the mission of the university with the focus on diversity, both environmental and cultural," Boyd said. "These will be vibrant learning centers about two basic issues of our time."

The Old Capitol Museum, which has been closed since 2001 following a fire that destroyed the building's historic cupola and dome and caused $6 million in damage, will reopen on May 6. The 160-year-old landmark was the first permanent seat of Iowa's territorial and state governments and was used by Iowa's lawmakers and government officials until 1857, when the state government moved to Des Moines. The building was then given to the UI. Since that time, the Old Capitol has been a focal point of the university, now attracting some 30,000 visitors annually from across the state and around the world.

In addition to its ongoing exhibits, the Museum of Natural History staff is creating a new gallery focused on the environment. The museum will remain open during its construction. The second oldest museum in the United States west of the Mississippi River, it was established in 1858, when the Iowa General Assembly directed the university to house specimens from the State Natural History and Geological Survey in a cabinet of natural history to be located in the Old Capitol building.

Trimpe's appointment as director took effect on March 1. Other staff members include Shalla Wilson, curator, Old Capitol Museum, and David Brenzel, curator, Museum of Natural History. Cindy Opitz is collections manager for the Museum of Natural History and office manager for both museums, Byron Preston is assistant curator for both museums, and Sarah Horgen and Elisa Ewing are education and outreach coordinators, respectively, for the Museum of Natural History and the Old Capitol Museum.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Linzee McCray, 319-384-0044, linzee-mccray@uiowa.edu. Program: Pam Trimpe, 319-335-0546, pamela-trimpe@uiowa.edu. Writer: Mary Geraghty Kenyon.