The task of planning and coordinating the move move of the Gustav Jeeninga Museum, with particular emphasis on the aesthetic installation and visuals of the renovations falls on Tai Lipan, the director of galleries. This responsibility has been taken up in addition to overseeing the Wilson Gallery and the Warner Sallman Collection.
Dr. David Murphy was named the director of the museum in 2017, following the retirement of David Neidert, who had run the museum since 1992.
In the fall of 2018, Lipan approached Murphy with ideas for improving the museum by moving it to the ground floor of York gallery, formerly occupied by the Gaither Exhibit that honored the achievements and musical journey of Bill and Gloria Gaither.
“We were sort of kicking around ideas early on, then when the Gaither Exhibition ended in the downstairs gallery, I felt strongly that we needed to do something more permanent and installed with that space,” said Lipan. “It’s expensive to have a rotating gallery like the Wilson Gallery.”
That thought was soon drafted into a proposal for AU administrators, which would turn into a request for the Falls Departmental Initiative Grant. This grant is part of an endowment by Glenn and Ruth Falls, which provides funding for departments to take on initiatives constructive to long-term growth.
The Jeeninga Museum renovations project received the full grant, greenlighting the months-long process that began this semester.
Giving Lipan the green light moved her to seek out inspiration from galleries across the world.
“I looked at the visuals of every museum known to man, because you can do that these days easily,” said Lipan. “It’s brilliant.”
While the budget gave Lipan room to improve the museum, there are still monetary constraints given the high costs of exhibits and displays. As an example, she said that the grant would have fully funded the cost of only one new case for the installation.
“I wanted to make sure that we could reuse the old cases,” said Lipan. “New cases just weren’t doable, nor do I think they’re necessary. I like to see how to problem solve our way out of needing that and reuse materials already there.
“I weirdly love remodeling kitchens, I like building and cabinets– built-in things– it’s what I do,” said Lipan. “So I feel weirdly capable of making this look good in the end.”
The construction will continue over the summer in anticipation of a fall 2019 opening.
The Jeeninga Museum renovations include more than just physical work on the case installation and display of artifacts, as Lipan and Murphy are in the process of updating the content for the reopening.
“I cannot tell you how many doctoral papers on Levantine pottery I’ve read in the last week,” said Lipan. “It’s a lot and it’s not anything anyone would ever, ever want to read.”
This approach is different from the Wilson Gallery, where Lipan first works with tangible objects and their physical arrangements, drawing from her sense of aesthetic.
“I believe in the visual as much as the content research,” said Lipan. “No matter how good the content is, if people don’t want to look at it then it’s not going to work, and vice versa.”
Many of the artifacts are in storage, and Lipan aims to eventually get every piece researched and displayed. This presents a unique opportunity for archival experience for students in public history.
“You have to learn the art of making it digestible to normal humans,” said Lipan. “Public history is a public-facing forum: you’re the liaison between all the academic content and people’s impression of it.”