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Changes Illinois-Under Water

Illinois State Museum Renovates Natural History Exhibits

On October 1, 2001, the Illinois State Museum (ISM)-Springfield initiated the renovation of the natural history exhibits. A team of ISM curators, educators, and designers worked closely with representatives from the Capital Development Board, Ferry and Associates Architects, Ginkgo Design, and Chase Studio, Inc. to develop the plans for the new interactive exhibit for the Museum s first floor. The new exhibit, Changes Dynamic Illinois Environments, will dynamically present an integrated look at Illinois environments from 500 million years ago to today. ISM staff will begin removing and relocating existing exhibits this fall, and construction of the new exhibits is already underway at Chase Studio. The new exhibits will be installed in the ISM over the spring and summer, with a grand opening slated for November 2002.

The new exhibit will capture the dynamism of past and present environments and examine the forces that promote change. It will present interpretations of changes in climate, land, and life and the interrelationships between them through the eyes of scientists in the Changes Institute (i.e., the ISM s interdisciplinary Landscape History Program). Visitors will Join the Staff to explore environmental changes in Illinois. This innovative approach creates a context for illustrating environmental changes in Illinois and presenting the evidence for those changes. Introductory exhibits and an audiovisual program will provide background on the tools and approaches that researchers use to read the record of environmental change in Illinois.

New exhibits will incorporate dioramas, object-rich cases, hands-on interactive elements, video, and audio. Two repeating elements will reinforce concepts and actively engage visitors: Connections exhibits will emphasize interrelationships between the various components of an ecosystem, and "Check Your Clue" exhibits will reinforce the link between evidence and interpretations.

Changes Visitors will start their trek in the unfamiliar environments of Tropical Illinois during a time when shifting continents left Illinois near the equator. Here they will encounter interactive exhibits and a large-scale diorama depicting marine life-crinoids, brachiopods, corals, trilobites, and sharks. During this long interval, waters rose and fell and Illinois was a shifting mosaic of shallow seas, swamps, and uplands. Another full--scale diorama will show life-giant fernlike trees, huge dragonflies, and amphibians--in an upland forest near modern day Rock Island.

The Frozen Illinois section will illuminate environmental changes during the Ice Ages, and will include a dramatic Full Glacial diorama featuring a giant short-faced bear. In another area, the ISM s signature mastodon skeleton will be remounted along with other Ice Age giants. As in other areas, supplemental exhibits will feature the fossils behind the reconstructions.

The final section of the exhibit Interglacial Illinois covers the most recent 12,000 years of environmental change. Most of the ISM's nationally known large-scale habitat groups will be refurbished and new interpretive panels will present information on the geology, plant life, and animals presented in each habitat. A new Illinois River diorama will depict a section of the river and a backwater lake in A.D. 1673. A spectacular flock of Carolina Parakeets will be mounted overhead. In a nearby exhibit, visitors will be able to interact with the RiverWeb digital river basin, developed with funding from the National Science Foundation. Visitors will be able to experience the river through scientific visualizations and simulations based on real data. They will be able to remove levees, observe floods, drive a towboat, and search for fish. The Interglacial Illinois exhibits introduce contemporary environmental issues such as habitat fragmentation, competition between native and nonnative species, and the role of humans in the ecosystem.

Overall, the dynamism of Illinois environments past and present will come alive in the new natural history hall. The new exhibit will illustrate the science behind the exhibit, and with its long-term perspective, will engender a better understanding of environmental change and environmental issues.

While the natural history hall on the first floor is being renovated, there is still much to see at the ISM-art, history, anthropology, and the hands-on A Place for Discovery exhibits remain open. In addition, on October 1 the ISM launched a new natural history exhibit in the Arts and Sciences Gallery. The new exhibit, Gems of the Natural History Collections: 125 Years in the Making, features the jewels of the ISM s natural history collections. Visitors are treated to outstanding natural history specimens that have been assembled over the past 125 years-since the ISM's founding in 1877. These natural wonders--life-like mounts of mammals and birds, spectacular minerals, mastodon tusks, and other objects--form the foundation of the ISM's research, education, and exhibition programs in the natural sciences. Archival photographs capture the evolution of the ISM from a cabinet of curiosities to one of the premier state museums in the country.

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© Illinois State Museum -- Last updated 13-Nov-2001 by eks