Richard W. Lariviere, president-elect of the Field Museum, thinks the institution he will take over Oct. 1 is poised to capitalize on a new generation's interest in the environment.
"My experience at universities is that for this 10-year window of students who have just recently graduated ... their issue is the environment," Lariviere says, the former University of Oregon president.
"And that is really great for the Field, because that's the sweet spot for the Field."
Lariviere, appointed in April to succeed John W. McCarter Jr., says the Field's iconic status worldwide became instantly clear through the widespread congratulations he received.
"The admiration with which this institution is held is pretty impressive," he says.
One of the challenges is to preserve the image of a museum at the cutting edge of research, even though it has some displays that are 50, 60 or 70 years old, Lariviere says. But he adds, "I got tears in my eyes when I walked in and saw the elephants still there. I was pleased to see that Sue [the Tyrannosaurus Rex] shares, but did not displace, the space in the great hall."
One of the challenges Lariviere faces is finding new ways to "monetize" all that interest in the museum.
"This is a big challenge for museums right now: How do you get people to pay for the cost of the operation of these places? The most obvious way is to get more people to come to the museum."
McCarter says there are three "concurrent revolutions" under way.
"The first one is environmental change," he says.
One illustration of the Field's work in that area will be a malaria exhibit that opens Thursday night.
"We are going to tell the story of bed-netting, insecticides, etc., in trying to damp down this terrible disease," McCarter says.
The second revolution is molecular biology. A growing number of curators at the Field, which has published work on the genome of ants, are molecular biologists as well as experts in other areas.
The third revolution is digital.
"We have opportunities in this digital world ... of reaching outside of the museum into the schools on the West Side and the South Side and into the schools in Nairobi," he says.
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