June 9, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 20

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    Oriental Institute receives NEH grant for renovation proj

    The Oriental Institute has received a $900,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help fund climate-control renovations to preserve the institute's invaluable collections.

    "We are grateful for this grant because this project is of the highest priority for the Oriental Institute," said William Sumner, Director of the Institute. "It is imperative for the institute to preserve its superb collection of art and other objects from the ancient Near East. This collection, along with the archives that document it, constitutes an invaluable resource for the research and education mission of the institute."

    Scholars from around the world visit the Oriental Institute to study its materials, which document the history and cultures of the ancient Near East. In addition, over 50,000 visitors a year, almost half of them schoolchildren, visit the Oriental Institute Museum each year to learn from its exhibits and to participate in a broad range of public educational programs.

    The Oriental Institute building, which has not been renovated since its completion in 1931, is not air-conditioned and is subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. As a result of the project, both the five museum galleries and the basement of the present building will be provided with climate-controlled environments. The stable environment will protect the Oriental Institute's artifacts, which include fiber, wood, ivory and other organic items that are highly susceptible to damage from fluctuating temperature and relative humidity. Metal and stone collections are also prone to deterioration, as high relative humidities leach salts out of their structure, destroying the surfaces of the artifacts. The improvements will also filter the air within the institute and prevent noxious gases and airborne pollutants from damaging the collection.

    In addition to helping preserve the collections, the climate-control improvements will provide much greater comfort for visitors to the Oriental Institute Museum, particularly during the summer, when fans have been the only source of cooling.

    A timetable for the renovations has yet to be established. The improvements will be funded by the results of a $10.1 million capital campaign, currently under way, that also seeks financial support for the construction of a new addition to the south of the institute. This new wing will provide space for the massive equipment needed to offer the highest levels of climate control, and it will also provide space for artifact and archival storage. As part of the renovations, the Oriental Institute will also be made more accessible to people with disabilities.

    So far, $3.7 million, including the NEH grant, has been raised for the campaign.

    Once a timetable is established, the first step in the renovation process will be to close the museum so the collections can be packed up in preparation for construction. There will be advance notification of this closing. The galleries will be closed for approximately three years while the renovation is in progress.