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Hi.

My name is Gary Zidek. Welcome to The Arts Section. Tune into the radio program every Sunday morning on WDCB 90.9 & 90.7 FM or listen to it online here. I'll be showcasing a variety of arts & entertainment, as well as.highlighting some creative ideas.

Oriental Institute Celebrates 100 Years

Oriental Institute Celebrates 100 Years

WDCB’s Gary Zidek visits the University of Chicago’s recently renovated Oriental Institute Museum.

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“One thing I try to do (is) to create a balance between things you can’t miss, and things you shouldn’t miss. On the one hand we have an impressive array of ancient monuments, these are true highlights of our collection. But at the same time I don’t think you should miss the smaller objects that give us a sense of an individual in the past.” - Jean Evans, Chief Curator and Deputy Director of The Oriental Institute Museum, talking about her approach to curating.

Left to right: Jean Evans, Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Oriental Institute Museum and Christopher Woods, director of The Oriental Institute.

Left to right: Jean Evans, Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Oriental Institute Museum and Christopher Woods, director of The Oriental Institute.

The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute is turning 100. According to the University’s website, the OI was “originally conceived as a research laboratory that would trace humankind’s progress from the most ancient days of the Middle East”.

 In 1931, the Institute opened a museum to the public to showcase the artifacts its researchers were uncovering during their expeditions to the Middle East. The OI currently has the largest collection of ancient Middle East artifacts in the United States.  A fragment of the oldest known A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, a 2,500 year-old stone relief featuring a lion and bull in combat and 12 mummies are some of the headliners in a collection of 350,000 artifacts. Despite the remarkable collection and a connection to a very famous fictional alum named Indiana Jones, the Oriental Institute is sometimes overlooked in Chicago.

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones

The origins of the OI can be traced back to James Henry Breasted. He was the first American to receive a PhD in Egyptology and among the earliest to champion the role that the ancient Near East played in the rise of western civilization. According to the IO website, Breasted insisted that who we are, how we live as humans together, began not in Greece or Rome, but rather in the complex civilizations that emerged in an area of the ancient Middle East that he vividly named “The Fertile Crescent”. Breasted received financial support and encouragement from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and in 1919 established the Oriental Institute.

Oriental Institute archaeologists excavating Persepolis, Iraq in 1938. Photo courtesy of the OI

Oriental Institute archaeologists excavating Persepolis, Iraq in 1938. Photo courtesy of the OI

OI director Christopher Woods says the Institute’s mission remains, though the nature of the research has evolved.

View of the OI Museum

View of the OI Museum

The OI Museum recently underwent some updates in the form of a multi-million dollar renovation project. In addition to upgrading the display cases, the Museum is also putting greater emphasis on the connection between the OI’s research efforts and the artifacts on display.

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The OI Museum is able to showcase about 5,000 artifacts of a collection that’s around 350,000. After the renovations, the Museum is able to display more than 500 artifacts to the public for the first time.

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The OI will continue to celebrate its 100 year anniversary through the rest of the year with a series of special programs and a new exhibit titled, WE START HERE: THE OI AT 100.

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The OI is also showcasing the work of contemporary artists: Ann Hamilton, Michael Rakowitz, and Mohamad Hafez, who will serve as the OI’s first interpreter-in-residence.

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“All of this is to lose this reputation of ‘hidden gem’ and just be a gem in the sunshine.” - OI Director, Christopher Woods talking about his hopes to make the Museum more accessible to the public.

The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute

The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute

The OI Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. There will be special centennial programming taking place over the next couple of months. You can find information about everything that’s taking place at oi100.uchicago.edu.

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