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'Testing, Testing 1-2-3:' Construction progress and exhibit experiments for the new Burke Museum – Dailyuw

While still two years away from the new Burke Museum’s opening, excitement already seems to be stirring on the UW’s northwest corner. As the construction crew finishes up the new building’s exterior, Burke staffers transform a part of the old building into what they hope to see when the new Burke will finally open. 

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A model of what the new Burke Museum will look like come 2018. Model by Olson Kundig.

A model of what the new Burke Museum will look like when it opens in 2018. Model by Olson Kundig.

Nikeesha Gooding

Based on what the building looks like so far, it’s clear that the new Burke will not be like any other ordinary museum. According to Eldon Tam, the new Burke project director, the building’s revolutionary architectural design was no accident. 

“We did a lot of consultation early on, even before we began design,” Tam said. “We heard things about how many people found traditional museums to be very disorienting, we also heard that people didn’t like how dark museums were.” 

To remedy these concerns, the enormous glass windows are meant to let in plenty of natural light. Windows will also be incorporated to the interior of the building, along with a prominent corridor through the middle, which will allow visitors to easily orient themselves in any location inside the museum. 

Currently only 30 percent of the collection is on display, making the Burke seem more like a storage unit rather than an actual museum. Because the new building will be 66 percent larger than the current facility, it will also double the amount of objects in the collection that will be visible to guests. 

While the new Burke is expected to allow for more interaction with the collection, it most importantly needs to provide new facilities to store approximately 16 million objects that belong to the museum, according to Tam.

The 70 percent of the Burke’s collection not on display at present is being stored in unsustainable conditions, which mainly lack the capacity to control the facility’s internal environment. 

“When you think about organic specimens, the humidity in the air really changes how they react,” Tam said. “So if the humidity changes a lot, they will shrink, contract, and expand, and that damages them over time.” 

But the museum’s lack of storage infrastructure does not only hinder the current collection, it also limits the Burke’s opportunities to collaborate with outside institutions. According to Tam, since many other museums have strict environmental requirements for the objects that they lend out, the Burke usually cannot afford to borrow external exhibits to present temporarily. 

Once the improved storage facilities will be in use, Tam expects the Burke to expand the types and amounts of outside exhibits to host and present to its future visitors. 

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Paleontologist fine-cleaning the T. rex skull currently on display in the old Burke. Within the workroom, experts from the museum's paleontology department are being recorded for a time-lapse video of the skull prep.

A paleontologist fine-cleans a T. rex skull currently on display in the old Burke museum. Within the workroom, experts are being recorded for a time-lapse video of the skull’s preparation.

Nikeesha Gooding

If construction remains on schedule, the new Burke museum is expected to open around the same time as the new light rail station in the U-District. The new station will be located on Brooklyn Avenue, between 45th and 43rd Street. 

The timing and location is no coincidence. Constructing the new Burke right on the edge of campus is meant to provide easy access both to visitors arriving by light rail and the greater community of the U-District. 

“It’s exciting to think about how we can all use [the new building],” Andrea Godinez, the Burke’s public relations manager said. “And make it a spot for both the campus and also for the greater public to start to engage with us more.” 

The Burke is not waiting until the new building is finished to achieve this goal. Since late June 2017 the museum has been experimenting with new presentation methods in their “Testing, Testing, 1-2-3” exhibit. 

The gallery is made up entirely of visible labs meant to show what the museum staff does behind the scenes. So far, the natural history department has been showing their work, which includes fossil cleaning and preparation, cataloging artifact collections, and 3-D scanning discovered objects. 

Most notably, the Burke’s paleontology experts have been working on unpacking and exposing a T. rex skull they discovered during the summer of 2016. According to Godinez, this skull is one of only 15 others that have been found around the world, and only the second one to be prepared in front of the public. 

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Paleontologist working on the T. rex skull, the process being put on display in the old Burke museum as construction happens next door. The prep lab for specimens of this nature will be a part of the public viewing areas in the new museum.

A paleontologist works on a T. rex skull in the old Burke museum as construction takes place next door. The prep lab for similar specimens will be available for public viewing in the new museum.

Nikeesha Gooding

The inspiration to transform the museum’s approach to its exhibits came from the annual “Behind-the-Scenes” nights that the Burke hosts for its members. On those nights, all the lab spaces and collection areas were opened, allowing visitors to see objects that are not normally on display, and to have engaging conversations with the staffers who care for them. 

The Burke has received plenty of feedback from members, who ask why these events are not held more frequently or for more groups of people. 

“It’s a lot of work, it’s hard, and we can only do that for one day at a time,” Godinez said. “While the public really enjoys it, our current building doesn’t allow for that ongoing level of connection.” 

“Testing, Testing 1-2-3” is designed to merge the experience that  past members only had access to with the projected appearance and layout of the new facility, in which galleries and labs will be intermixed, rather than separated. 

Starting Wednesday, Sept. 27, the exhibit will be handed off to the Burke’s ethnology department, which plans to transform the lab into an interactive classroom. 

Holly Barker is the Burke’s curator for Oceanic and Asian culture, and she’s also a senior lecturer in the department of anthropology. She plans to merge these two communities through her use of the new exhibit space and her specialized research of Micronesian cultures. 

“My approach to research is teaching,” Barker said. “So if I can bring in as many other people who might be able to awaken some of those objects, or unpack some of that knowledge and bring that forward, then we all have an opportunity to learn from it.” 

Throughout fall quarter, Barker will be teaching a formal UW course under the name ANTH 369: “Special Problems in Anthropology (reimagining anthropology in micronesia)”. 

The class will meet Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. Students will first congregate in Denny Hall, but over time, Barker hopes that students will be comfortable in the exhibit space, where they will have opportunities to fully learn about and engage with the material culture in the Burke’s collection. 

“I’m hoping that students will see the importance of showing our larger community that studying Micronesia is really worthy of our time and our interest,” Barker said. “And that they can play a part in amplifying the cultural strengths and worth of research.” 

While registration for the class is now full, Burke visitors are welcome to join the class once it takes place in the new exhibit space. 

“Testing, Testing, 1-2-3” will be open until Sunday, January 7, 2018.

The Burke is still accepting private donations from those who want to personally support the project. 

More information on the new museum’s construction progress can be found on the Burke’s website. 

The new Burke museum is expected to officially open in September 2019. 

Reach reporter Niva Ashkenazi at [email protected]Twitter: niva_ashkenazi

Source: Google News : http://www.dailyuw.com/news/article_a2f6e58a-a3fa-11e7-8378-975403beed02.html

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