November 2019 marks the beginning of a new era for the Penn Museum, formally known as the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
This month, Museum staff and supporters celebrated the completion of the first phase of ambitious renovations planned to revitalize the visitor experience, supporting the Museum’s mission to serve wide-ranging audiences beyond its academic roots. Julian Siggers, Williams Director of the Penn Museum, describes the Building Transformation project in this video from Penn Today.
Recently featured in The New York Times, this initial phase of reconstruction—supported through the Museum’s Building Transformation Campaign—has brought tremendous change to the physical layout of the Museum’s historic building, culminating in more than 10,000 square feet of new visitor space and reimagined galleries—including new exhibits devoted to Africa and Mexico and Central America, and a revamped, 614-seat Harrison Auditorium.
“This museum has one of the greatest collections of archaeological objects in the world,” says Peter C. Ferry, C’79, G’21, PAR’20, PAR’21, Co-Chair of the Building Transformation Campaign. “It’s a great responsibility to care for them, to teach the public about them, and maximize their educational value.”
Among the most dramatic elements of the building’s transformation is the creation of a new Main Entrance Hall, where students and visitors are greeted by the colossal Sphinx of Ramses II. Often referred to as the “unofficial mascot” of the Penn Museum, this monumental artifact made international news this summer when it was moved to this new space from its former gallery—a massive undertaking made possible by state-of-the-art technology and the work of dozens of staff and technicians.
The Sphinx oversaw an evening of celebration on November 9, as key supporters gathered for the Golden Gala at the Penn Museum and enjoyed a sneak preview of the renovations made possible through their generosity.
Gala attendees explored the new exhibits during guided tours led by Simon Martin, lead curator of the Mexico and Central America Gallery, and Tukufu Zuberi, lead curator of the Africa Galleries. Special guests included Penn President Amy Gutmann and David L. Cohen, L’81, Chair of Penn’s Board of Trustees.
This ongoing transformation of our museum epitomizes the power of Penn. The new museum is a treasure for our students, for our campus community, for our city, and for the world.” Penn President Amy Gutmann
The new Penn Museum opened to the public on November 16 with further celebrations of the building transformation. Members of indigenous groups offered blessings of the new galleries, kicking off a two-day festival that featured live performances of music and dance, guided tours, children’s workshops, and more.
“The Penn Museum is a terrific resource for the community at large, as well as for Penn’s students,” said Jill Topkis Weiss, C’89, WG’93, PAR’19, Co-Chair of the Building Transformation Campaign. “It’s a great place for all generations to learn about the past—and to think more about what the future might hold.”
For the Penn Museum, the future holds another round of major renovations in the coming years, with a goal to reimagine the Egypt and Nubia Galleries. This will include the restoration of the 3,200-year-old Palace of Merenptah—the only pharaonic palace anywhere outside of Egypt. This work, representing Phase 2 of the multi-year renovation project, will not only ensure the proper care and preservation of this world-class collection, but will allow it to be shared with the public like never before.
The Building Transformation Campaign is critical to enable the completion of these renovation efforts. “The generosity of our donors has already transformed our museum in ways that some believed impossible,” said Siggers. “By supporting the renovation of our Egypt and Nubia Galleries, you bring new life to our shared human history, and help us to tell a story that can only be told here at Penn.”