Cultural Education Committee



Carole F. Huxley


Renewal of the State Museum - Progress




September 19, 2005




Goals 4 & 5








Issue for Discussion


How can the Museum be renewed to embrace new technologies and advances in exhibit development to make its resources available to all?


Reason(s) for Consideration


The State Museum’s permanent exhibits were designed in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. They neither reflect the research of the past 25 years nor the richness of the remarkable collections of the State Museum. Integration of new technologies and improved techniques for interpreting our natural and cultural histories are much needed.


Museums are education institutions dedicated to providing opportunities for life long learning. New technologies provide new ways to reach visitors with learning opportunities or to provide memorable experiences. Museums should be central to addressing science literacy issues, working with formal education institutions toward closing the gap and serving as a community resource. 


Proposed Handling


The Regents, acting in their role of trustees of the State Museum, will oversee the renewal of the Museum galleries. At the November meeting, the Quality Committee will be considering recommendations as to how the Regents can best execute their oversight responsibilities.


Procedural History


The Museum master plan for exhibitions was presented to the Regents in 1999 and progress toward implementation reported periodically to the Cultural Education Committee and to the full Board.


Background Information


The State Museum is the oldest and largest State Museum in the country and is internationally known for the depth of its collections and the quality of research done by its staff. The Museum galleries, designed in the 1960’s, lack the perspective of the new realms of social history – African American, Latino, women’s history and others. They do not give access to the richness of the collections or use new interactive approaches to engage the visitor.


The Museum recognized these issues, and in 2001 the first phase of an exhibit renewal plan opened with 25,000 square feet of new exhibits. Additional enhancements to current exhibits, as well as the new World Trade Center Hall, have since been developed. Annual attendance has risen by 40% since the initial improvements - from an annual mean of 550,000 to more than 775,000 visitors over the past three years, making the State Museum the most visited museum in the upstate region.


Transformation of the galleries will continue to create an interactive, hands-on environment and a stimulating visual and auditory experience, making a lasting impression on visitors of all ages. People will learn, return many times and never forget. The Museum will emphasize a “wow” factor, with exhibits that convey New York’s unique and exciting history in a manner that makes it unforgettable.


The Museum has recently received more than $3 million from the matching challenge funds to implement the continuing renewal of its galleries. Challenge funds will enable the Museum to make improvements throughout the galleries, using interactive components and multimedia technology to make collections and research accessible to our visitors. Staff will provide an overview of the projects underway at the meeting.


Staff will also present an overview of its planning for two major galleries; one devoted to the natural history of New York, New York’s Changing Landscape: A Walk through Time, and one that presents the role of New York in the history of the United States, Empire City; Empire State: America Begins in New York. The first phase of this project will use some of New York’s greatest treasures to tell the story of the State’s role in shaping the country in areas as diverse as human rights and utopian societies, finance and the industrial revolution, innovation and the arts, transportation and politics. While standing alone in its unique heritage, New York has led the nation throughout its history as a true crucible for new ideas.






Timetable for Implementation


The Museum has begun implementing improvements through the challenge fund and is developing an OCE-wide concept for both a “Natural History Gallery” and the “America Begins in New York Gallery.”  We anticipate concept-funding approval in 2006 after which focus groups, visitor surveys and exhibit developers will work with staff to plan the galleries. The plans will be presented to the Stewardship Committee for approval in early 2007.