The Penn Museum’s new exhibition, Middle East Galleries, will open to the public on April 21. To celebrate, the museum will conduct a two-day-long Opening Weekend Festival.
The exhibit will feature over 1,200 objects from a period spanning 10,000 years, according to the Penn Museum website. The exhibit is also the first of the museum’s upcoming signature galleries that are part of its "Building Transformation Campaign," a $102 million fundraising campaign.
In the campaign, which is projected to last three years, the museum seeks to alter the way in which visitors experience the presentation of world cultures by providing context to help visitors better understand the present relevance of such cultures.
Williams Director of the Penn Museum Julian Siggers said he believed the opening of the exhibit pairs well with Penn President Amy Gutmann’s recent announcement of the Power of Penn Campaign, which aims to fundraise $4.1 billion over the next four years.
“It’s an exciting time for us," he said. "Dr. Gutmann announced the Power of Penn Campaign, which emphasizes inclusion and impact. We want to take that and make sure that we’re carrying that out. We’ve tried to make [the museum] more welcoming and meaningful.”
Middle East Galleries has made deliberate attempts to reach a more diverse audience, Siggers said.
According to a Penn Museum news release, the museum will host inclusive educational workshops that accommodate those with special needs, as well as a specific children’s guide to the museum. Additionally, the exhibit will include various touch-and-feel pieces, with staff on hand to explain their stories.
Stephen Tinney, the coordinating curator of the galleries, added that with this inclusion in mind, the museum was also aiming to aptly tell the stories of the region.
“For this, we wanted to do something that was the first of its kind in the U.S.," he said. "Throughout the exhibit you’ll be able to find Global Guides, who were hired from Syria and Iraq to [speak to the] unique experiences of growing up in the Middle East.”
Siggers said that although there may be centuries of difference, and often, thousands of miles between the audience and the peoples whose lives are displayed within the exhibit, these are “our stories too.”
“[The stories are] our shared experience in the world we live in, including this city,” Siggers said.
He also referenced one of the final features of the exhibit, which will be a side-by-side comparison of a map of Nippur in 1400 BCE and a 2017 map of the SEPTA transit system. He said that the comparison aims to demonstrate the similarity between life then and now.
In addition to the Opening Weekend Festival, Penn Museum will be hosting a free Student Gala on April 18 to give Penn students the chance to get an early view of the exhibit.
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