From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Throughout 2015 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of The State Museum and Archives Complex in Harrisburg, Dauphin County. As you might expect, we will do some looking back with a full schedule of programs and events, changing exhibits, and special articles in Pennsylvania Heritage to mark this important milestone. But an anniversary is also a time for looking forward. Our most important anniversary projects will be preparing The State Museum and State Archives facilities for the next 50 years.

For the State Archives, getting ready for the future means constructing a new facility. After 50 years of service, the current building is full and there is no room for future growth. In addition, it no longer meets modern standards for fire suppression and proper environmental conditions for the long-term preservation of its more than 200 million manuscript pages. To address this problem we are now designing a new State Archives building, which is scheduled to open in 2018. You will be reading more about this ongoing project in future issues of Pennsylvania Heritage.

For The State Museum of Pennsylvania, getting ready for the future means renovating and updating the core exhibits. Most were installed in the 1970s, before today’s video, digital and interactive technologies were available. The process of revitalizing our exhibits will take several years, but you will see substantial progress and development during this anniversary year.

Some of the most dramatic changes will occur in the natural history galleries on the third floor. Our Natural History Advisory Committee with representatives from five separate state agencies (PHMC, Fish and Boat Commission, Game Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Department of Environmental Protection) has just approved a new interpretive master plan that will guide exhibit renovations over the next five years. Many improvements are already underway. A new natural history changing exhibits gallery was installed last year. The new Nature Lab that has just opened provides expanded space for demonstrations and hands-on activities. The renovation of Mammal Hall, one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, began in March and will be completed in stages over several years. It will feature improved lighting and new interpretive labels, but the beloved dioramas will be restored, not changed. To assist us with this project we are working with the team of conservators and artists who recently completed the very successful diorama restorations at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

When it opened in 1976 the Carboniferous forest exhibit was one of the first prehistoric environmental exhibits in the country, but it is now in need of a major update. That work, incorporating the latest research and exhibit lighting and technology, should be finished by September. Ecology Hall, our largest natural history area, is now being totally redesigned. This work, which will take several years to complete, should begin in 2016.

As part of our 50th anniversary we have also initiated major upgrades to our history and archeology exhibits on the first and second floors, but I will save that report for an upcoming issue. In the meantime, I encourage you to visit The State Museum to view our work in progress. Change will be a constant as we prepare the museum for the next 50 years, and you will discover something new on every visit.

James M. Vaughan
Executive Director, PHMC