Beginning Nov. 12, visitors to the Indiana State Museum will sink into Indiana history.
In the renovated Natural Regions gallery, squishy flooring sinks under visitors’ feet like the spongy marshland that once covered Indiana.
“We were really trying to think about the different levels of learning and how people experience content,” Beth Van Why, the museum’s associate vice president of exhibitions, said.
Susannah Koerber, senior vice president of collections and interpretation, said the changes to the museum’s three core galleries, Natural Regions, Contested Territory, and 19th State, are the first of many in the next three years.
The galleries, which open to the public Nov. 12, are the first phase of the museum’s five-phase, $18.2 million INVision campaign. The project, which will retool the museum’s 50,000 feet of core galleries and special exhibits and 11 historic sites across the state, will be finished in time for the museum’s 150th birthday in fall 2019.
According to Van Why, interactivity was the driving force behind the redesign.
“We tried to explore new ways for visitors to engage with the artifacts,” she said.
The overhauled Natural Regions gallery, which tells the story of Indiana’s natural landscapes from the 1800s to today, features elk and muskrat fur pelts visitors can stroke. A three minute sound recording, which begins with the frogs and thunder of 1700s Indiana before culminating in the beeps of a reversing construction truck, illustrates noise pollution.
The new Contested Territory gallery documents the first contact between Europeans and Native Americans in Indiana. As part of a partnership between the museum and the Miami nation, visitors can listen to Little Turtle’s speech at the Greenville Treaty Council delivered in its original Miami language.
The retooled 19th State gallery, which chronicles Indiana’s journey to statehood in 1816, illustrates a day in the life of pioneer families such as the Lincolns. Guests can pack items for a covered wagon journey via a touch screen simulation, as well as study a bench mallet used by Abraham Lincoln. Not to worry, though—for all the innovation re-shaping the museum, the popular butter churn remains.
“Everything is about diving deeper into the stories of people versus walls of artifacts,” Van Why said.
She said the curators tried to incorporate discovery elements, such as flip doors and areas where visitors can walk under and into spaces, into their gallery designs. The gallery layouts can also be easily modified to tell different stories.
“The galleries include changing story pods, which let us tell stories that fit the gallery but not necessarily the timeline,” Van Why said. “They allow us to change and modify stories as time evolves.”
Van Why said the redesigned exhibit spaces incorporate large open areas that will allow the museum to begin offering educational programming in its galleries, such as en plein air drawing.
Damon Lowe, chief curator of the Natural Regions gallery, said the renovations will also enable the museum to display more of their collection.
“The redesign allows us to put more of our collection out on display that visitors might not otherwise see,” he said. “It allows us to tell more stories.”
The Indiana State Museum (650 W. Washington St.) is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $13 for adults, $12 for seniors, $9.75 for Indiana college students, $8.50 for children 3-17, and free for children 2 and under. On Saturday, Nov. 12, admission is free for children 18 and under with the purchase of an adult ticket.