University Museum opens spring exhibits despite staffing and budget cuts


Alison Erazmus, the University Museum’s curator of exhibits, examines the frame on a painting Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in the museum. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

By Olivia Spiers

The University Museum opens its spring exhibits on Friday, which is later than usual, because of significant staffing cuts and difficult financial times in the institution, according to museum officials.

The museum, which occupies Faner Hall, is without a director for the first time since it opened in 1874 at the Old Main building, which burned down in 1882. The absence of a director leaves the two full-time museum workers in charge of over 70,000 artifacts.

When Museum Director Dona Bachman retired with no replacement last semester, the museum staff had trouble planning the new exhibits because many patrons were wary about the museum’s fate, said Susannah Munson, a museum curator who oversees artifact storage.


“Some local collectors and artists began declining from showing works out of fear their works would be lost if the museum closes,” Munson said.

Munson said she has reassured donors that their works would remain in storage, as they are state property, but “the fear is still there.”

Usually, the museum’s exhibits showcase local artists’ works which are displayed for weeks, rather than months like the museum is doing now, said Alison Erazmus, curator of exhibits.

Erazmus said the exhibits require a minimum of five staff members and are typically planned months in advance in order to run smoothly.

“Right now, there’s no one planning the exhibits next semester,” Erazmus said.

Because of the lack of planning, the museum’s ability to frequently rotate exhibits has caused them to “get creative with exhibit ideas,” she said.

“Because we can’t show as many exhibits, we’ve had to delve into our own stash of works, which is bittersweet,” Erazmus said.


Bryan Beck, a graduate assistant at the University Museum, sets a hook Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in the museum in Faner Hall. Beck, who is from Boca Raton, Fla., studies glass art. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

On Friday, the museum is showing a sneak peek of its permanent gallery about the history of southern Illinois after retiring it 10 years ago. The exhibit will show many Native American artifacts from the region as well as fossils and possibly an old moonshine still that is in museum storage, Munson said.

The museum is also opening the “Wounded Works” exhibit on Friday, which highlights the conservation of old artifacts. Many “tokens of school history” will be on display, such as a Grant Wood portrait of the longest serving SIU president, Delyte Morris, and his 1969 desk chair, Erazmus said.

“Being so understaffed here makes actually doing these exhibits pretty hard,” she said.

With the lack of manpower and no director, Munson said she and Erazmus are left to do the job of roughly five or six people.

“In most cases, an interim director would have been chosen before [Bachman] even left,” Munson said. “Apparently, the money wasn’t there to do that.”

College of Liberal Arts Dean Meera Komarraju said administration is looking to replace the vacant position in the next month, but the hiring process is long and slow.

Munson said hiring an interim director will be helpful, but there are still other vacant positions that need to be filled.

Alison Erazmus, the university’s curator of exhibits, places a hat inside a display case Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in the University Museum. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Danny Rohr, a graduate student from Mascoutah studying sculpting, said he started at the museum in 2015 as a receptionist, and now oversees the student workers and gallery schedules — tasks he said are for the museum director.

“A full-time worker should be doing my job, but there’s simply no one left to do it,” Rohr said.

On Jan. 12, the University Museum was listed as one of about a dozen programs at risk of losing university funding if the state budget doesn’t ends and significant funding does not begin to flow to the university by the end of the fiscal year in June.

The report was put together by the non-academic prioritization committee appointed by interim Chancellor Brad Colwell. The report focused on long term cash saving measures.

While closing seems unlikely, it’s still on the museum staff’s radar, Erazmus said.

“Closing would obviously be the worst case scenario,” Erazmus said. “But for the time being, we are still here.”

Staff writer Olivia Spiers can be reached at [email protected], 618-536-3325 or on Twitter @_spierso.

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