Travel story with Breakout box at bottom

Walk into a museum around Rockford, and chances are you’ll be encouraged to touch — a lot
Like their counterparts across the country, local museums are focusing on ways to incorporate technology into a more interactive museum-going experience, hoping to intrigue patrons of all ages and help dispel the notion that museums are stuffy places where you must keep your hands to yourself.

Meet Jane
“We’re very aware that we have to use modern technology to keep our exhibits interactive and user-friendly,” said Jill Trojinar, who heads marketing and development for the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford. “There’s so much out there to attract people when they have free time that we need to be one of those fun, interactive, exciting things that they want to do.”
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In 2005, Burpee pumped $1.2 million into a 2,000-square-foot exhibit for Jane, the highly anticipated juvenile T. rex the museum unveiled that summer. The display features several interactive stations, including one that netted the museum national recognition. “Meet the Researcher: Dr. Greg Erickson” won a 2006 MUSE award — which recognizes outstanding achievement in museum media — for incorporating live footage of Erickson, a renowned paleobiologist, and computer animation to teach visitors how to estimate a dinosaur’s age.

Based on response to the Jane exhibit, Burpee has tried to weave such interactive features as audio-visual touchscreens with questions and trivia into its new displays. While much of the effort is geared toward making science attractive to younger crowds, Trojinar said, Burpee also has its eye on adults and hopes to have audio museum tours available as podcasts or iPod downloads next year.

Music and art
Rockford Art Museum also incorporated iPods into the upgrades it did this year on its lighting and sound systems in preparation for the prestigious “He & She” exhibit that opened in March. Rather than taking up space with a band for an exhibit’s grand opening, the museum can stream music from local artists and save live bands for larger fundraising events. The art museum also uses a pair of donated plasma TVs to highlight different activities for patrons, updating the footage every few weeks.

“We’re a contemporary art museum, so it makes sense for us to use contemporary technology,” said Sarah McNamara, the museum’s community relations coordinator. “It should be the little things that people don’t necessarily notice, but they make for a seamless experience for everyone who comes in.”

Teaching kids

Smaller, historic museums also are taking steps to make themselves more accessible and fresh, as funds are available. Most of their efforts are focused not necessarily on major technological advances but on making a positive impact on younger patrons.
Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum starts its tours by distributing “hands-on baskets,” which include a stereoscope — the 1800s version of a ViewMaster — and different items from the museum’s collection, such as rug beaters and fireplace bellows.

We incorporate hands-on baskets into our tours to help dispel the notion that a house museum isn’t kid-friendly — it is,” said Janna Bailey, Tinker’s education coordinator. “It sounds kind of corny, but the hands-on element really helps kids literally get in touch with history.”

At Ethnic Heritage Museum, President Shirley Fedeli incorporates 30 years of teaching experience into making the museum more kid-friendly. The museum hands out passports that children fill with their family heritage information and favorite things from the rooms dedicated to different ethnicities. There also is a computer lab where kids can research in different languages.

And sometimes it can be something as simple as using a catchy title, like the museum’s current “Mysteries of Rockford” tour.

“Kids get excited about just that word — ‘mystery’,” Fedeli said. “Between TV and everything else that’s out there blasting, we need to catch their eye and hook them into something.”

 

Local museums


Burpee Museum of Natural History
737 N. Main St., Rockford
815-965-3433; burpee.org
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays
Admission: $5 for adults and $4 for ages 3-17. Wednesdays are free days.

Rockford Art Museum
711 N. Main St., Rockford
815-968-2787; rockfordartmuseum.org
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. “He & She” ends Sunday.
Admission: $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, free for 12 and younger. Tuesdays are free days.

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum
411 Kent St., Rockford
815-964-2424; tinkercottage.com
Hours: One-hour guided tours leave at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and Sundays. Group tours for eight or more can be arranged between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any day with reservations.
Admission: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $2 for ages 5-17 and free for younger than 5

Ethnic Heritage Museum
1129 S. Main St., Rockford
815-962-7404
Hours: 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Appointments by request
Admission: $3 for adults, $1 for children

Midway Village & Museum Center
6799 Guilford Road, Rockford
815-397-9112; midwayvillage.com
Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
Village hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays through September
Admission: $5 for adults, $3 for ages 3-17

Erlander Home Museum
404 S. Third St., Rockford
815-963-5559; swedishhistorical.org
Hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Appointments can be arranged.
Admission: $5 adults, $3 children; family maximum is $15.

Discovery Center Museum
711 N. Main St., Rockford
815-963-6769; discoverycentermuseum.org
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays (open until 7 p.m. Thursdays in the summer), noon to 5 p.m. Sundays
Admission: $5 adults, $4 children, free for younger than 2 and members

Camp Grant Museum
1004 Samuelson Road, Rockford (inside Command Post Restaurant)
815-395-0679
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, by appointment for groups
Admission: Donation

Graham-Ginestra House
1115 S. Main St., Rockford
815-968-6044
Hours: 1-4 p.m. Sundays
Admission: $3 adults, $1 children

Macktown
2221 Freeport Road, Rockton
815-624-4200; macktownlivinghistory.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays-Sundays
Admission: Free

Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum
11619 Illinois 76, Poplar Grove
815-547-3115; wingsandwheelsmuseum.org
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays
Admission: $4 adults, $3 seniors, $2 for 6 and older, younger than 6 are free, family maximum is $10.

Historic Auto Attractions
13825 Metric Drive, Roscoe
815-389-7917; historicautoattractions.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays through Labor Day
Admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for ages 6-15, $5 for nonprofit groups, free for younger than 6

Boone County Historical Museum
311 Whitney Blvd., Belvidere
815-544-8391; boonecountyhistoricalmuseum.org
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays
Admission: $3 adults, $2 seniors, $1 students, free for members, family maximum is $5
 
Lisa Glowinski
GO Editor
Rockford Register Star
815-987-1379
lglowinski@rrstar.com
http://go.rrstar.com