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New Look Coming to the Western Illinois Museum

Rich Egger
Director Sue Scott has plans for breathing new life into the Western Illinois Museum.

The Western Illinois Museum in Macomb has unveiled its "Renovate to Innovate" facilities plan. 

“We feel like we’re transforming our small history museum into a community hub that’s responsive to our community’s needs,” said Director Sue Scott. 

“We’ve been working on this for almost three years. It came out of a long-range plan trying to figure out how best we can serve the community and create a place where people can come together.”

Scott said she studied what other museums around the country are doing and read Nina Simon’s Participatory Museum, which examines ways to breathe new life into museums.

To fund “Renovate to Innovate,” the Western Illinois Museum is in the midst of raising $170,000. So far they’ve raised 75% of the goal.

The money will pay for: 

  • Converting the garage door openings on the north side of the building to windows and replacing windows on the west side with energy efficient Pella windows beginning in May, 2021. The estimated cost is $100,000.”You will see the money immediately being put to use,” Scott said.
  • Installing HVAC in the east part of the building in October, 2021 at a cost of $35,000. “That will allow us to program back there all year long,” she said. The east part of the building currently has neither heating nor cooling. It houses stored artifacts, and a portion of it was used for the Blind Swine speakeasy events.
  • Knocking down the wall between the east and west parts of the building starting in November 2022 to create one large space that visitors can easily navigate. The estimated cost is $35,000.

Scott said the entire project should be completed by early 2023.
She said the renovation will allow for the display of rotating thematic exhibits plus the creation of three smaller galleries featuring exhibits such as The Military Tract and Life on the Prairie, Our Community and Change, and Agricultural History and Culture.

In addition, she said the museum will be able to host more programs and hold multiple events at once. 

She said the museum hired an architect to develop a new layout for the building.

Scott plans to use small groups of volunteers to help do some projects, such as taking up the floor, and thus hold down the cost of the renovations.

The building, at the corner of Washington and Lafayette Streets, was used for automotive-related businesses for much of its existence. Scott said Jemima Lodge built the original structure in 1926. 

“She tore down her husband’s carriage shop to put up this brick building for a Ford motor dealership. So she saw the way of the future, just like we feel this type of museum is the way a future museum will be,” Scott said. 

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.