Reece Museum to flaunt new improvements with reopening events

Tony Casey • Nov 5, 2013 at 9:50 PM

“We’re referred to as a hidden gem, but we don’t want to be hidden anymore,” said Reece Museum director Theresa Hammons.

She and her staff are preparing for the grand reopening of the museum at East Tennessee State University, which is packed with events from Friday through Nov. 13 after almost two years of renovations. Hammons excitedly explained all the changes that have been made since the building shut down for updates in May 2011, all of which she hopes will help show all the museum has to offer. It specializes in local and regionally-based exhibits, with art and historical pieces from across the globe.

The $1.7 million, from state capital maintenance money, has been stretched thin, but well. The museums’s new improvements were made with a new elevator, new track lighting, carpeting, floors, custom made UV-filtering windows, asbestos removal, and bathroom. Another big change has been going from two HVAC systems on each of the two floors, to one system that can control the temperature in each individual room. Most of the changes, Hammons said, will help preserve the museum’s collection and save money and energy in the long run.

The last time the museum saw renovations was 1965, and this time around, many of the changes were made to make the facility more accessible to everyone — especially those with disabilities — and bring the place up to code. Hammons said guests in wheelchairs used to have difficulty getting through some of the doorways.

Changes made in a new bathroom allow for a person in a wheelchair to be able to reach everything with ease, and give them the space to be able to do a full turn around, updates in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as a new baby changing station. There are also extra handicapped parking spaces outside the museum, which lead up to a ramp into the building. The disabled will benefit from the new elevator, but Hammons says her staff will be able to use it to move the boxes upon boxes of artifacts and museum materials to and from their storage space in the basement.

The museum’s collection contains about 20,000 artifacts, Hammons said. She said they’ve been waiting for these updates for a long time and the government has a priority list, which the Reece Museum has been on for at least the eight years she’s been there, and was excited to find out the time had come for renovations.

One of the coolest and most popular features at the museum is a kiosk in the permanent collection room, filled with Johnson City regional musical and art exhibits. It’s a touchscreen monitor that brings users through a musical history of the area, through three designated local musical eras.

Hammons said the museum serves as a research facility for scholars, and often has ETSU classes and field trips come through the exhibits for instructional use. She’s the only full-time employee at the museum and help comes from work study students and workers from AmeriCorps.

For the upcoming reopening events, on Friday, there will be a Treasures of the Reece: Artifacts of the New World event at 6 p.m. in the museum, where Hammons said they will be serving heavy Hors d’oeuvres and bringing ticket holders down to the storage basement to show off pieces, including their famed Pablo Picasso piece. Tickets can purchased at the Reece Museum until just before the event.

Another event will be a Community Day celebration that will be free to the public and family-friendly. It will take place on Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. There will be art demonstrations from former Reece employees Nancy Jane Earnest and John Hilton, and storytelling at 1 p.m. with artist Penny Gamble-Williams. There will be a 2 p.m. Town Branch Bluegrass performance to wrap up the day.

On Tuesday, the museum will host its annual Poinsettia Tree unveiling and reception in the Burgin Dossett Hall administrative building, and on Nov. 13 there will be a discussion by public radio commentator and author Wayne Winkler on the Melungeon identity in Southern Appalachia.

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