Proposed Columbia museum district has ample support, but no plans

Sunday, January 5, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Campus movers took furniture and office supplies from Pickard Hall on MU's main campus up to Mizzou North in December.

COLUMBIA — Movers finished hauling everything that belongs to the MU Museum of Art and Archaeology out of Pickard Hall on Dec. 31, but museum officials are already looking forward to the next move.

The State Historical Society of Missouri has proposed creating a downtown museum district that would include a new historical society building, the Museum of Art and Archaeology, and the Museum of Anthropology. The Downtown Columbia Leadership Council unanimously supports the concept, but museum officials haven't discussed what that district would look like — or how they would pay for it.


RADIUM GAME: Herman Schlundt, an MU researcher for 35 years, conducted research on radium and its isotopes from 1913 through the mid-1930s, bringing thousands of pounds of radioactive sludge to MU. Pickard Hall has been emptied so that the university can further assess the levels of radiation that remain. (This story is available to Missourian digital members.)

A new building for the historical society alone would cost about $37 million, said Gary Kremer, executive director of the historical society.

The university is moving its two museums to Mizzou North as part of Renew Mizzou, a multimillion-dollar project to make changes at Swallow, Pickard and Jesse halls. Pickard Hall was emptied so that the university could further assess the levels of radiation that remain from experiments conducted in the early 1900s.

"We need to go in and assess how we can remove it permanently," university spokesman Christian Basi said.

Once radiation testing is finished and costs are estimated, the university will have a better idea of the long-term future of the museums, Basi said.

Mizzou North, former home of the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, is at Garth Avenue and Business Loop 70 West.

The directors of both university museums agree that a museum district is a wonderful concept, but it's still stuck in the conceptual phase.

"It'll probably be good for the city and could be good for students," said Alex Barker, director of the Museum of Art and Archaeology. "But the devil is in the details."

There has not been any discussion among the museums' staffs to "flesh out" what the district could even look like, he said, and the chancellor's office will likely make the final decision.

MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin hasn't yet commented on the museums' future, but former Chancellor Brady Deaton described the move as "temporary" in a June letter to the Columbia City Council.

Downtown museum district

Henry J. "Hank" Waters III, a member of the State Historical Society of Missouri's board of trustees, proposed locating the district next to where the Heinkel Building now stands, on the block between Sixth and Seventh streets and Elm and Locust streets.

Kremer said the historical society has been in search of a new home for decades, even well before a 2006 study commissioned by MU and other local colleges "deemed the area to be an ideal place for the district." A 2007 concept plan based off the study also envisioned an MU museum in the same area.

“We have been planning and working towards this building for years, but we still need funding to make the building a reality,” Kremer said.

Brent Gardner, chair of the downtown leadership council, said the sooner a plan begins to take shape, the sooner the museums can start raising money for it.

"Getting consensus is one thing," he said. "Getting some funds together is another."

Although the historical society suffered major financial blows in 2009 when the state cut its budget by 25 percent and the federal government denied it stimulus money, the society continues to campaign for funding from the state legislature and donations.

“If we had the funding, we would be in a position to start a new building very quickly,” Kremer said.

Museum Associates, a group that promotes and advocates for the Museum of Art and Archaeology, is exploring options for relocating the museum. Tootie Burns, chair of Museum Associates' expansion committee, said the organization is recruiting members to discuss fundraising options. The committee will likely begin meetings early this year, she said.

The organization also raised $100,000 in pledges in December, which will be used as seed money to support conversations about relocation, Burns said.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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