- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - The State Dinosaur of Oklahoma’s head may now be down, but the Museum of the Red River has good things ahead with an expansion and renovation project soon to start.

The Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/1L0GcSx ) reports that the $4 million project is touted as the archaeological and ethnographic art museum’s next development stage to address storage shortcomings and improve gallery space. With more artifacts and material coming to the museum, such changes will provide additional storage room and an enhanced means to showcase its vast collections for visitors.

For staff like Henry Moy, the museum’s director, the project is a welcome one at its 812 E. Lincoln Road location, which is said to be the biggest exhibiting facility like this within a 200-mile radius.

MoRR holds both permanent exhibits and temporary ones, which will be shown at the museum’s adjoining conference center during renovation work expected to last through 2016. They’ll still be available during the museum’s normal business hours in that center, as will most educational activity.

The MoRR’s prize resident, a skeleton cast of the dinosaur Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, won’t be available for viewing during this time. Museum collections date from prehistoric to contemporary times, particularly emphasizing native cultures from the Americas.

Among other improvements, the new facade’s appearance will be inspired by temple pyramids found in Central America. Larger classroom and lobby space will also add to the museum’s strengths.

“Going back to our core mission, your standard museum mission of collections, exhibits and programs, we wanted to address all those areas of the museum,” Moy said. Collections run at about 95 percent capacity, and with promised gifts on the way in the next few years (7,000 to 9,000 pieces), they need more room.

“We currently have 30,000 pieces,” Moy said. Gifts include ethnographic material from the Southeast, as well as Native American material from all over. They annually receive new gifts from Africa, the South Pacific and elsewhere.

“For a museum to properly store materials, you have to take into consideration humidity, the materials, things they are stored in and on, the environment around them and all that kind of stuff,” Moy said. They’re ambitious, though. “We intend to double our storage capacity in this construction project.”

Galleries haven’t been entirely refitted with new technology and lighting until now. This is their chance to do so wholesale, Moy said, with improved lighting and up-to-date galleries.

“It’ll be more energy efficient, is really what we’re looking at. We’re going to change some of the finishes. It’s time the carpeting got replaced and things like that,” Moy said. All of this will enhance the art that’s shown through their active exhibition program, whether it’s touring shows or items from the collection.

A recent exhibit of contemporary art, which closes today, is the Seven-State Biennial Exhibition. “Artists in Oklahoma and the six states that surround Oklahoma are invited to submit to the exhibit. It’s juried by a professional artist,” Moy said.

“Selections from the Collections: Staff Favorites” has also been up, as well as a showing of recent acquisitions on display until March 6.

In programming, Museum of the Red River must expand its ability to meet the needs of visiting students. Schools come to MoRR in larger field trip groups. “They’re going to fill the bus and two buses, if need be, but get the whole grade out there at once,” Moy said.

The museum needs a gathering place and staging area where field trips can assemble. That means larger classroom and public program space will be added, Moy said.

This is the fourth expansion plan beyond the museum’s 1975 start as a simple rectangular space (3,000 square feet). Successive expansions happened in 2000, 2004 (a new lobby, classroom and space for the dinosaur) and then with the Mary H. Herron Community Conference Center in 2009.

“The spectacular part is adding about 10,000 square feet to the front,” Moy said of this latest addition. Currently the building comprises about 32,000 square feet.

Moy anticipates the MoRR will start the expansion and renovation project soon. They’re receiving bids now. The whole front of the building will be ripped off, essentially.

“We should be in the hole-in-the-ground stage by mid-February,” Moy said.

Construction should last at least a year, and they aim for a soft opening in February or March of 2017 with a party that April. “We usually celebrate the fourth Friday in April as our anniversary, our birthday party,” Moy said, crediting its methods and levels of support as reasons for the museum lasting 40 years.

“Our founders in 1975 established an endowment account that we’re still living off of,” Moy said. “Even after all the turmoil of the last few years, we are still 80 to 85 percent dependent on our investment income. That’s pretty solid every year.”

They’ve been able to maintain a free admission program, too. They’re a low-cost museum and aim to serve the public in the best way they can, Moy says.

“We all know we live in one of the poorest parts of the country,” he admits, then noting their unique mission.

“We’re unusual in that we’re an ethnographic art museum. That’s how we define ourselves. We really display and talk about cultural history using material culture of people from all over the world,” Moy said.

Whether it’s African pottery, a dinosaur specimen found in McCurtain County, Native American arts, a collection of valuable cradles, beautiful clay figures, baskets from different cultures or any of the other intriguing artifacts from its collection, Museum of the Red River gives the public something they can’t find anywhere else near here.

In an area that’s depressed economically, culturally and in other ways, said the museum director, they realize they’re giving something to kids that they’d never be able to find here otherwise. It’s educational insight, background knowledge.

“This is how people on the other side of the world deal with preparing food, what their dress is. . it broadens that experience for everybody,” Moy said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if all our kids really had a better understanding of the differences around the universe in the rest of the world?”

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Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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