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New Field Museum president eager to put institution back on path to ‘normalcy’

Julian Siggers also said he’d like to see the museum’s Egyptian and African exhibits updated and reimagined.

The Field Museum closed for awhile during the pandemic, and when it reopened in July, visitors had to use the east entrance.
The Field Museum closed for awhile during the pandemic, and when it reopened in July, visitors had to use the east entrance.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

After a year that saw layoffs and pay cuts among staff, the Field Museum’s new president and CEO said his first priority is set the institution on a “journey to normalcy.”

To that end, Julian Siggers, who started earlier this month, said Friday he plans to restore the salaries of 149 staffers making $50,000 or less a year; they had been cut 10%.

Also, he added, “we are working very actively to reinstate the higher paid members of the staff as soon as we can,” he said Friday. “But some of the lower paid staff tend to be the frontline staff, so they’re bearing the brunt of this thing. So it’s a huge priority of mine to get people back to their normal salary and to get as many people back as we possibly can.”

Julian Siggers, the new president and CEO of the Field Museum.
Julian Siggers, the new president and CEO of the Field Museum, doesn’t expect attendance to rebound fully until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Provided

As part of the fallout from the coronavirus that saw the Field and other cultural institutions shut down in mid-March, then-Field President Richard Lariviere in June announced those pay cuts; he also said then that 71 positions had been eliminated, and 56 other employees had been furloughed.

The museum reopened in July, but is seeing much smaller crowds than in pre-coronavirus times — just 15%-20% of the usual attendance, Siggers said, and he doesn’t expect to see the numbers fully rebound until there’s a vaccine.

The museum is in the midst of renovating its Native North American Hall. Initially, the hope was to finish in March 2021, but because of coronavirus-related safety restrictions, it’s now likely to open next fall, Siggers said. Some work can be done remotely, he said, but display cases must be built on site.

“There is quite a hive of activity in the gallery when it’s being built. They are still making progress, but it’s slower,” he said.

At his previous job as director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, Siggers oversaw the redesign of that institution’s Egyptian and African collections. He said those at the Field are overdue for an update.

“I would be surprised if those weren’t in our plans in the very near future,” he said.

Siggers said there’s “a lot of enthusiasm” at the museum for reimagining the Egyptian collection.

“It’s a very difficult story to tell because it’s such a long story,” he said. “It’s 5,000 years ... of continuous occupation. So it’s an amazing story — with so many firsts in it too. People have always been drawn to that story. I’d love to tell it in a really compelling way.”