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CARBONDALE — According to new curator of exhibits Wes Stroeger, University Museum is much more than an art gallery.

“We are an everything museum,” he said. “We have a large ethnography collection, we have a geology collection — we have everything.”

The museum’s 70,000 artifacts have been inaccessible to the region since the facility shuttered in July due to the state budget impasse. Its closure prompted an outcry from the university community; former student workers drove several hours just to lay flowers outside the museum’s doors.

But Chancellor Carlo Montemagno announced the museum would reopen at his State of the University address in September, and as of last week, it’s finally back up and running — at least in part.

The museum’s South Gallery is currently under construction, but enormous steel sculptures by Aldon Addington — slated for display before the museum’s closure — now line the Atrium Gallery. The larger Mitchell Gallery currently features large-scale oil paintings by Larry Bernstein, a professor emeritus of art and design.

Curator of collections Susannah Munson, who maintained the museum’s collection throughout the closure, said July was a difficult time.

“It was hard, and a little depressing, having to undo everything and put everything away,” Munson said.

Stoerger, an SIUC alumnus, is no stranger to the museum — he worked as a volunteer for exhibits as an undergraduate and as a graduate assistant under Munson in the archive.

“I had spent a lot of time working here, I was pretty connected to the museum, and it was, I don’t want to say heartbreaking, but it was pretty devastating to see that this institution that had been around for so long and was so important got shut down,” Stoerger said.

The museum, previously part of the College of Liberal Arts, is now under the Library Affairs umbrella. Pam Hackbart-Dean, director of special collections, is overseeing the museum until a director is hired.

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Tim Serles, a junior studying history education, examines artifacts Tuesday in the University Museum. The museum opened its doors for the first time Tuesday since closing in July.

“Having been a student here, (Stoerger) was able to hit the ground running, and having Susannah already here to be able to work with him, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the two of them working together,” Hackbart-Dean said.

Because of his familiarity with the museum’s archive, Stoerger was quickly able to put together the “Afghan Treasures” exhibit, culled from the collection of artifacts from Afghanistan.

“He knows what’s in the collection, so he was able to say, ‘I think this is interesting, and we haven’t seen these for a while,’” Munson said.

In March 2017, the museum was stripped of its accreditation status through the American Alliance of Museums as a result of cuts stemming from the state budget impasse. It had held the distinction since 1977.

“Unfortunately, we have to start at the beginning of the whole process, but because we’ve been accredited and have gone through the accreditation process a number of times, we have a lot of resources, we know what needs to be done — we have a lot of examples of what we’ve done in the past to deal with that, to not only gain but keep our accreditation for those 40 years,” Munson said.

It will take two to three years before the museum can begin the accreditation process, and then the process itself will take a couple of years, Munson said.

Munson said the staff hopes to bring back programming like the Arts Education Festival, but such planning is still a long way off.

“Right now we’re trying to just be open and available to campus and the community,” Munson said. “Once we get some more staff in place, especially a director, that will be the person who sort of creates a vision for where the museum will move, what kinds of things we want to do in the future.”

“We’d like to get back to that point where people kind of see us as an arts destination and pillar in this community,” Stoerger said.

Once the museum is fully open and running like normal, it will host as many as 25 exhibits each year, keeping things fresh for visitors.

“There’s not another museum like this in Southern Illinois. It’s extremely unique even outside of Southern Illinois,” Stoerger said.

University Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. A reopening reception will be held March 8.

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On Twitter: @janis_eschSI



Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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