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Reaching for the stars, the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science enters phase five of their expansion
John Streetman and Mary Bower

As a capstone to his 38 years as director for the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science, John Streetman retires with groundbreaking improvements and opportunities for accelerated programs and exhibitions for the museum.

The renovation and expansion, “Reaching for the Stars,” began in 2008 with a $17 million capital campaign goal. “It’s an ambitious project for such a small museum,” Streetman says. “And when the bottom fell out at the end of 2008, we, consequently, had to scale back our plans to fit a $14.1 million goal. The footprint of the project has changed, but the mission hasn’t.”

Campaign chairman Rita Eykamp is joined by other community benefactors, and with the close of 2012, four of five phases have been completed, and construction has broken ground on what will become a new plaza and immersive planetarium. With five video projectors, the full-dome theater offers a 180-degree, 40-foot in diameter seamless and vibrant vistas of the stars. The current dome — the first in any Indiana museum — is in its 60th year and seats only up to 72 visitors. The new planetarium will add more than one third of the seats currently available, and according to Mary Bower, the Virginia G. Shroeder curator of collections and interim director, may be operated independently and after standard museum hours. “It’s a multi-media project with the power to address the world around us,” says Streetman. Though, the planetarium is just one of the improvements the museum is realizing.

“We’re creating a more cohesive campus,” says Bower. EMTRAC, or the Evansville Museum Transportation Center, opened in 1999 to showcase the museum’s 1926 club car and 100-year-old caboose, as well as other transportation innovations collected from Evansville’s past. Along the Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage, adjacent to a new parking lot, will be an outdoor plaza that leads into a 2.5 story pavilion on the south side of the museum. “We are presenting the museum in an entirely different way,” Streetman says.

Entering the second floor of the pavilion, visitors will find their way through phase four, the new and interactive Welborn Baptist Foundation Family Place — a hands-on science center with revolving science exhibits and a classroom — then through the rest of the museum. Looking forward, Bower says the museum has plans to update Rivertown USA, the replicate 19th century city street, through to the next century. An Evansville Home Front is expected to add to the World War II exhibit currently on display to show a more broad perspective of Evansville’s involvement in wartime manufacturing.

As a general museum, Bower says, we meet a lot of community needs. “From our ‘Origins of a City’ exhibit (a visualized history of Evansville over a century) to the galleries, we have a little bit of a lot of things,” she says. That doesn’t mean their collections are lacking. The museum’s “Contemporary American Still Life” collection has been the largest in the area for 25 years, Bower says. Through March, the Mid-States Exhibition showcases local talent. The contest began in 1948, and is judged by a jury of arts professionals.

With Streetman’s retirement in December, Bower plans to continue pursuing avenues of expansion and creative ways of preserving Evansville’s history. “We’ve been creating the dream facility,” Streetman says. “But that doesn’t mean we’ve ever wanted to stop improving.” The museum’s board of trustees expects Streetman’s legacy to remain strong: They unanimously named him director emeritus.

For more information on exhibits and operating times, visit the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science. A tribute to John Streetman’s contributions to the museum is on Friday, Jan. 18, at Casino Aztar. See our Guide for more information.

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