The upcoming move of two University of Missouri art museums from the main campus to a satellite location in north Columbia is raising concerns that fewer people will be able to visit the attractions.
The museums of Art and Archaeology, Anthropology and a museum support center will move to the former Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, now known as Mizzou North. The move is part of a $22.85 million project dubbed Renew Mizzou that will include major renovations to Jesse Hall, which is the main administration building; and Pickard and Swallow halls, site of the two museums. University officials said the museum moves could be permanent.
Still, the old hospital will itself need major upgrades to serve as a proper repository for rare and valuable collections filled with thousands of ancient artifacts, famous paintings and archaeological remnants, museum supporters counter. They also worry that the more remote near Interstate 70 will mean fewer visitors and less administrative support. At the same time, the Ellis Fischel building could offer more space to display collections that are now in storage.
“This is the jewel and crown of the university,” said Larry Stebbing, an assistant preparator for the Museum of Art and Archaeology. “It’s a beautiful little place.”
Stebbing said the former hospital is rife with “steam lines, water lines and duct valves in every place we would put the art” – conditions that could threaten the collections. And while Ellis Fischel has more square footage, the amount of available display space will lessen, he said
“This move will put the whole museum at risk,” Stebbing said.
Despite the concerns, Michael O'Brien, dean of the College of Arts and Science and the director of the Museum of Anthropology, is optimistic the move will work out.
“I think in the end, this will be an excellent arrangement for everybody,” he said. “At least I hope so.”
In Pickard Hall, the Museum of Art and Archaeology houses more than 15,000 pieces from the Paleolithic period to modern times. The building was once home to the university’s chemistry department, and experiments have left lingering radiation in the walls, its attic and beneath the floor boards. Although the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011 said the amount of radiation in Pickard Hall was safe, university officials asked for more time to clear out the entire building and conduct further tests.
In Swallow Hall, the Museum of Anthropology contains the largest holding of prehistoric Missouri artifacts in the world, including millions of items dating from 9,000 B.C. to modern times. Basketry, weapons, masks and textiles are among its ancient artifacts. That includes the Grayson Archery Collection, which contains about 3,000 arrows and 2,500 bows from six continents. The oldest item is a Persian bow from 1300 A.D.
Plans call for completing the initial relocation of some collections by the end of the year.
Local school groups are among the museums’ most frequent visitors, including some groups that can walk to campus. Some Columbia educators worry that their students will no longer have easy access to the more remote location on Business Loop 70, a commercial corridor several miles away.