It has been sixteen years and I have some thoughts to share. This will not be my typical brevity so get comfortable. This is a time of enormous fluorescence for natural history museums. Enabled by new theory and DNA technology, natural history scholars can probe the intricacy and complexity of evolution. Stimulated by the crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change, natural history museums have expanded into conservation and environmental leadership. And new digital capabilities enable broader sharing of collections while providing new methodologies for education.
Over the last sixteen years, The Field Museum has been a leader on all three dimensions of this explosion in knowledge and expansion of mission. Over the last decade and a half, Field Museum scientists have discovered and described over 1,000 new species. They have published over forty-five hundred peer reviewed journal articles and books. Our ECCo team has enabled the protection of 55,000 square miles of rainforest in the Andes-Amazon and served as a leader in conservation of the Chicago metropolitan area.
Our Education and Exhibitions teams have created nineteen new permanent halls and have mounted over one hundred temporary exhibits to bring the world to Chicago. In addition, they have developed Field Museum branded exhibits that have taken Chicago to over one-hundred museums from Idaho Falls to Tokyo to Dubai
To enable this continuing burst of creativity, our Trustees and development staff have raised over $500 million dollars. Our assets have more than doubled from $250 million to $600 million. Our physical facilities have expanded 30% to 1.3 million square feet
The Board of Trustees have shared their wisdom and wealth through their involvement, as their numbers have grown from thirty-five to eighty-five, deepening our reach throughout the Chicago community.
My role has been to be along for the ride. I have learned so much from you over these sixteen years:
• Waiting to introduce Cleopatra in the fourth gallery of her exhibit, having first prepared the visitor with the background of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and the City of Alexandria
• The co-evolution of insects, birds and flowering plants
• Converting Stanley Field Hall in chameleon fashion
• The nature of intrauterine cannibalism and shark parthenogenesis
• The profitability of a tiny footprint retail store under a dinosaur in an airport
• Nondestructive chemical analysis of obsidian glass
• Colors coming together in a palette
•The sparkle of newly cleaned glass and freshly painted walls
• The plasticity of young brains as preschoolers explore The Crown Family PlayLab
• The diaspora of flowering plants from the Tibetan Plateau to all the Northern continents
• The extraction of barely discernible fossil bones from their rock matrix
• The importance of friendly greeting and smiles as we add to our membership and welcome visitors into the Museum.
You have been my teachers and, as your student, I cannot thank you enough. I have had the privilege of serving as your leader but much more importantly, I have been your follower.
Last year John Canning, Chairman of our Board initiated two efforts to add to our endowment. The first of these is directed toward the sustainability of ECCo and now stands at $14 million with a target initially of $20 million.
The second is to strengthen science across the Museum and has raised $10 million thus far and continues to grow. Today we are announcing the creation of a one million dollar endowment for scientific innovation. Each year a $50,000 grant will be available for ideas with the potential for fundamental impact on the advancement of knowledge.
We are also announcing the endowment of four scientific positions. Four scientists have been selected to occupy the endowed positions for 6 year renewable terms. Each is a distinguished scientist and equally important a leading citizen of our community. Each is a teacher, making complex issues understandable. Let me describe each.
Standing in a parking lot on the Upper East Side of New York City outside the Sotheby’s warehouse fifteen years ago, having probed field jackets and exposed bone fragments for hours, I asked Bill Simpson, "Do you want it?" His emphatic and unqualified "Yes" led to the dinosaur SUE and all she has done for this Museum – the iconic status, the contribution to our fiscal strength, the endowment of Pete Makovicky’s curatorship and the extension of our presence to museums around the world. Bill has been the protector and explorer of Sue and the vertebrate paleontology collection. Bill, thank you for saying "Yes to SUE."
What a privilege to visit other museums and when I identify myself as from The Field have the exclamation "Do you work with Ruth Norton?" I do and it is a privilege to do so. Focused on the care of the anthropology collection--ceramics, paper, ivory, barkcloth, basketry, textiles, metals--Ruth is among the most distinguished in her field of ethnographic conservation. With an international scope encompassing The Philippines, Australia, Jordan, The Netherlands, consulting with UNESCO and her published works, she brings a deep experience since her post-graduate degree at Winterthur, the leading institution in the world for art conservation.
If you ever walk in the woods with Field Museum scientists, people like Bill Burger will be telling stories of the canopy above, folks like Doug Stotz will have their ears and binoculars focused on the sky. Following behind at a slower pace, turning over logs and scuffling through the leaves of the forest floor will be Alan Resetar, looking for those creatures which prefer the privacy of their hiding places. As Collections Manager for Amphibians and Reptiles, those who work with him know that Alan shares the excitement and enthusiasm of discovery. He also is among the Museum’s best partners, working with The National Park Service, The EPA, both IDNRs, The Nature Conservancy, and Chicago Wilderness right here at the intersection of eastern deciduous forest and the Midwestern prairie-–focused on animal behavior, habitat disruption, the patchwork of conserved spaces and rare species.
Finally, if one were to measure excellence and reputation by National Science Foundation grants received, Matt Von Konrat, would rank at the top. Grants seem to roll in almost monthly. And he makes bryophytes like liverworts exciting. Most recently, local educators assembled in the BioSynthesis Center to share the findings of a worldwide synthesis meeting. His early land plants deepen our understanding of biogeography, reproductive biology and enable better informed decisions on conservation management. A native of New Zealand he brings an international dimension to The Field.
Each of these individuals is focused on collections. This investment is a continuation of our focus on the preservation of our collection as a learning laboratory and follows the investment in the Collections Resource Center, the compactorization of the Searle Herbarium, the enabling of temperature and climate control through improved instrumentation of air flow, the new insect and invertebrate collection area, and the expansion of digital images. Collections are the base of our research and environmental programs. Continued investment is essential to their care for current science as well as "untold things, as yet unseen" in the future.
Next, thanks to the innovators and colleagues who form the leadership of The Museum.
• Jim Croft my partner these sixteen years
• Laura Sadler who leads all dimensions of the Public Museum
• Laura Biddle Clarke who brings in the philanthropy
• Joe Brennan the attorney who also leads our digital initiatives
• Lance Grande who directs collections and research
• Debby Moskovits who conceived and leads our environmental initiative
• Shawn VanDerziel who serves as Chief of Staff
• Helen Green who has been my Executive Assistant and constant companion at 7:30 in the morning
It has been a privilege for Judy and me to have been your colleagues and friends.
Finally, the new President of The Field, Richard Lariviere.