The future of Penn Museum lies within the past.
The museum debuted a massive renovation this weekend, with more than 10,000 square feet of reimagined spaces celebrating craftsmanship and culture throughout its collection of art and artifacts.
The new Penn Museum is meant to emphasize that the space is open to everyone, from tourists to Penn students to local residents. The renovation includes overhauls to the Africa Galleries, the Mexico and Central America Gallery and the Sphinx Gallery.
“These reimagined spaces and expanded amenities transform how we engage with our guests -- truly making this a museum for all, open to everyone,” said Dr. Julian Siggers, Williams Director of the Penn Museum.
The Sphinx of Rameses II is the museum’s greatest object, said Dan Rahimi, executive director of galleries for the Penn Museum.
The 13-ton red granite sphinx moved about 300 feet to its new location this past summer. The move took several days, after months of planning.
It’s now front and center in the museum’s newly renovated entrance hall.
“We really wanted visitors to come into the museum and have a brand-new experience,” Rahimi said.
Penn Museum is not only renewing its appearance, it’s changing the way it presents history. The museum is showing the relevance of its artifacts to today's culture and explaining how artifacts were taken out of their homelands and to Philadelphia.
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That includes the stories of artifacts that came with enslaved people.
There will be “constant references to what has happened in Africa and how that played out in Philadelphia,” said Tukufu Zuberi, a Penn professor of sociology and Africana studies who curated the Africa Galleries.
The museum has said this approach will help launch a critical conversation that will engage visitors from all backgrounds.
“We’ve completely reimagined the gallery,” said Simon Martin, associate curator and keeper of the American section. “We’ve made it larger. We’ve made it more comprehensive. What [visitors] are going to see might surprise them.”
The Mexico and Central America galleries will contain artifacts that have been previously displayed and a selection of new ones – including newly revealed gold pieces from locations including Panama and Costa Rica.
“We’ve never really shown our gold collection,” Martin said. “They’re really spectacular.”
Accessibility was another major goal of the renovation. The updated layout of the exhibits allows better access for visitors of all abilities with two new elevators and multiple ramps.
Some other upgrades include updated restroom facilities, lighting and historical restoration of the Harrison auditorium. Penn Museum also is getting air conditioning, something it hasn’t had since its creation 120 years ago.