On Nov. 15, the reopening ceremony of AU’s Jeeninga Museum of Near Eastern and Biblical Archeology will be hosted in its new home, York Performance Hall.
This campus museum of ancient artifact collections was established by Dr. Gustav Jeeninga in the 1960s. According to Dr. David Murphy, professor of history and current director of the museum, it closed its doors last semester to begin the process of relocation.
“The museum has been located in the basement of the School of Theology since its opening in 1963,” he said. “We’ve had it closed to visitors since last March while we moved everything from the School of Theology over to the current location in York Performance Hall.”
Murphy explained that he hopes the new location will be more accessible to students and attract more visitors.
“I’ve been teaching here for almost 30 years,” he said. “In the past, I’ve been struck by how many people I ask about the museum or if they have seen these things we have and they aren’t usually very aware of it. Now, it’s a lot more visible and looks considerably more contemporary.”
According to Murphy, the relocation benefits the museum’s previous location just as much as its new location.
“It allowed us to free the space in the basement of the School of Theology, which has become a really beautiful lounge space,” he said. “It was really a win for the building where it was, and for us it’s going to be a much greater asset and resource for the university than it had been.”
Murphy explained that the idea of relocating the museum to a more central location was presented by Professor Tai Lipan, professor of art and the new co-director of the museum.
“Tai had the great idea of relocating it in a space that would be more accessible and more visible because it’s such a great resource to the university,” Murphy said. “The beautiful look of the museum is totally Tai’s design, creativity and imagination and I helped think of the ways to organize the artifacts by theme, by place of origin, by chronology and by historical period.”
Lipan explained that the process of moving a museum was a new experience for both of them.
“We are fairly new to this, so it’s something we have both been figuring out together,” she said. “We both saw that this was an opportunity for us to make this move and we have been learning along the way all about the artifacts and the museum.”
According to Lipan, it took time to fully appreciate the context and significance of the artifacts displayed.
“Neither of us were responsible for the museum previously, so there was a big learning curve with understanding what the collection was,” she said. “We’ve both been tag-teaming random loads. I certainly have focused more on the design aspect of the museum, but in terms of research, we walked through all that together along the way.”
Lipan explained that the museum offers a unique opportunity for students to interact with ancient history.
“I think what’s really amazing about our collection is that we have some really poignant things that speak to the area and the cultural overlap,” she said. “It’s amazing to encounter a material possession or object of somebody and to be able to make all of that come to life for people.”
According to Lipan, this revitalizing vision for the museum led to the elimination of several displays.
“The old Museum had a lot of replicas,” she said. “Our shift in focus has been to relocate these replicas to the staircase in York; we are able to say that everything in the actual museum now is an actual artifact, so there’s no confusion on the viewers’ part about what’s going on.”
Although the collection may appear smaller, Lipan said she believes it will not diminish the visitors’ appreciation for the artifacts.
“Perhaps it feels smaller or less flashy, but it’s far more mysterious and magical in my mind,” she said.
Lipan explained that she is looking forward to the museum’s reopening ceremony as an opportunity for visitors to see the artifacts in a different light.
“There’s going to be food,” she said. “We’re going to hang out, look at the museum and chat and talk about it.”
The Jeeninga Museum reopening ceremony will be held in York on Nov. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m.
To hear Lipan and Murphy further discuss the museum and its collection, listen to an Andersonian podcast at andersonian.com/category/audio.