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UA wants $62M for Rio Nuevo museum

New branch would allow people to see hidden artifacts

ABOVE: Patrick D. Lyons, head of collections at the Arizona State Museum, holds a Sikyatki polychrome bowl of early Hopi pottery from about 1400. BELOW: A closer look at the bowl Lyons is holding

ABOVE: Patrick D. Lyons, head of collections at the Arizona State Museum, holds a Sikyatki polychrome bowl of early Hopi pottery from about 1400. BELOW: A closer look at the bowl Lyons is holding

Arizona’s first inhabitants gathered more than 10,000 years ago with nothing more than spears to hunt mammoths.

The Clovis people were hunters, and their story is told in bones and spear points excavated from the San Pedro Valley. But those clues to our past are in storage – along with other treasures – at the Arizona State Museum.

Also tucked out of view at the museum on the University of Arizona campus are ancient tools, vessels, turquoise jewelry, ceramic figures, effigy pieces, trade items and Quechan Indian dolls.

The artifacts, and the UA museum’s decades of research, chronicle the region’s history and origins, which is why UA officials say the city should fund expansion of the museum downtown with Rio Nuevo funds.

UA is seeking $62 million to build a branch of the museum just south of Congress Street and west of the Santa Cruz River. That is where a farming culture developed some 4,000 years ago.

If that happens, the public will finally be able to see, on consistent display, thousands of items excavated in Arizona.

“People want to see these things,” said Michael J. Riley, the museum’s associate curator and head of public programs. “The biggest critique is, ‘You don’t have enough stuff up.’ Our job is to tell the stories of groups of people.”

The museum’s collection traces the evolution of prehistoric humans, revealing their hunting styles, migration patterns, farming techniques, technology and trade interests.

It speaks to climate changes, culture and religion, and may be important to American Indians trying to gain land and water rights, Riley said.

The repository also reflects the region’s black, Chinese and Hispanic communities.

Lack of funds and space have kept much of the archives out of the public eye.

Rio Nuevo funding for the museum would come from tax increment financing. In 1999, voters approved the Rio Nuevo district, a way to qualify for state funding for economic development.

In essence, the state refunds to the city part of the sales tax collected in redevelopment areas.

The City Council has approved spending $53.7 million to rebuild Mission San Agustín – the first major Rio Nuevo project. There’s no commitment on funding for other projects, including a UA science museum, and some museum officials said private donations may be crucial.

UA President Robert N. Shelton said he has not considered alternative funding.

“What we need to hear is what the city can do. I haven’t said no to private dollars, but endowed professorships are a higher priority for me,” Shelton said.

“You can’t get into any kind of significant campaign without knowing how much you’re going to raise,” he said.

Still, UA officials say they are committed to working with the city because a downtown museum’s function would be too great to ignore.

13,000 years of history
Plans for the downtown Arizona State Museum site include two major galleries: one for the new “Journey of Our Ancestors” exhibit and one for an upgraded version of the current “Paths of Life” exhibit.

A third space for short-term exhibits would also be on the site, which would be nearly twice as large as the current one at 1013 E. University Blvd.

The museum has been forced to rent off-site space for storage and is having difficulty keeping tabs on curation project requests, said Patrick D. Lyons, the museum’s head of collections.

“Our mission is mandated under law and we have done our best to keep pace, but we can’t keep up,” Lyons said. “We’re beyond full.”

The new site would have public spaces, work rooms and a module allowing visitors to share personal stories – components that don’t exist now.

“We think oral history is very important. It’s an important part of documenting who we are,” said Charles Adams, a UA anthropology professor who has spent 20 years studying Arizona’s history and prehistory.

Adams is piecing together the $3 million “Journey” exhibit with James Sims, principal with Threshold Studio of Alexandria, Va.

The 79,000-square-foot building – where the exhibit would be housed – would feature the most current research, covering nearly 13,000 years of history, including communities in Arizona such as the Hohokam and Hopi.

It also speaks to archaeological history, Sims said.

“Arizona State Museum is among the oldest collectors in the country,” he said. “The other story is the story of archaeology – the art and the science.”

Estimates show the museum might attract 155,000 visitors annually – more than three time the number of visitors today.

“When you add the value of our collections, we’re rated in the tens of millions,” said Steven Harvath, the museum’s development director. “We have an obligation to bring the fruits of our research and our collection back to the people.”

It’s also about correcting misconceptions, said Beth Grindell, the museum’s associate director.

When Spaniards first arrived in the early 1500s, they found large Hohokam structures but no obvious link to the culture that created the sites and assumed it disappeared.

“What really happened was, the urge to live in large populations disappeared,” she said.

On migration patterns, “we have the best information from an archaeological viewpoint,” said Adams, on sabbatical from UA after taking a visiting faculty position at Harvard University.

“Migration is a common and ubiquitous human experience,” said Adams, who is completing a book on his years of research.

“What we see as Tucson today is a result of people migrating from all over the world,” he said. “One of the reasons we’re doing this is because migration is such a big issue in Tucson.”

‘A very rare opportunity’
UA wants the museum ready before Arizona’s centennial celebration of statehood in 2012.

“It’s an important time marker for us,” said Harvath, who is also the museum’s marketing director.

The museum’s proposed location is also important because of Rio Nuevo’s direct link to the past, said Michael J. Riley, the museum’s head of public programs and associate curator. “It’s a very rare opportunity.”

The Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation recently gave the museum a grant of about $31,000 to help plan ways to finance the “Journey” exhibit, which will soon enter its design phase.

“We anticipate we will need some major gifts, so we’ll be casting a wider net and branching out as we go,” museum director Hartman Lomawaima said.

The grant allows the museum to finalize an application that may bring a three-year, $400,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, allowing officials to complete the “Journey” exhibit.

The museum hopes the exhibit will help the public realize all humanity faces similar challenges, Adams said.

“I hope people will get back to their common humanity and realize we’re all just human beings,” Adams said.

“Most people are moving because of some opportunity or some tragedy. Maybe we’re not so different – 10,000 years ago.”

Pottery made by Quechan Indians, a tribe that lives along the Colorado River, is part of the museum's collection.

Pottery made by Quechan Indians, a tribe that lives along the Colorado River, is part of the museum's collection.



Visit these sites to learn about the Arizona State Museum and Rio Nuevo:

www.statemuseum.arizona.edu – Web site for Arizona state Museum North.

www.tucsonaz.gov/rionuevo/start.html – Information about Rio Nuevo.


What: The Arizona State Museum

Where: 1013 E. University Blvd.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Admission: $3 donation suggested.

What’s new: “Images of Faith,” featuring photos of Sonoran Desert mission churches, runs through June 24.

Information: 621-6302

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