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Even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, staff members at the University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums are hard at work creating programming for the current reality.

“I think the idea is to build our community (and) have some fun," Jessica Smith, the museums' communications coordinator, said of the organization's plans for the coming months.

The University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums recently announced its slate of programming for this spring, with more to come for the summer and fall.

► More: University of Iowa's Pentacrest Museums continue to offer programming despite COVID-19 pandemic

Virtual Game Nights

The first of five hourlong virtual game nights is set to be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 25, with other dates at the same time through April 29.

“This was designed to get people out of their quarantine routine and indulge in their competitive spirit," Smith said.

Each night has a different theme, from virtual escape room to "Are You Smarter Than a Curator?" and "Old Cap Clue." Smith said the competitions will include prizes for the winners, too.

Registration is required in advance, and can be done on the Pentacrest Museums' website. Though the event is free to students, there is a $5 fee for the general public hoping to attend, with proceeds funding educational museum programming.

Find more information at PentacrestMuseums.uiowa.edu/virtual-game-night.

My Collections

By "My Collections," the Pentacrest Museum means "your" collections. Beginning this year and recurring annually here forward, the museum is asking individuals to send in applications for their personal collections to be featured in a pair of exhibits.

"We know that collecting doesn’t only happen in museums and that lots of folks have different collections at home," Smith said. "But we think we’re the perfect place to showcase these collections. We’re really interested in the shared human proclivity to collect and we really want to share that with our greater public."

Currently, the museum is only accepting collections from individuals affiliated with the University of Iowa (i.e. students, faculty, etc.), two of which will be turned into exhibits. Each of the exhibits will have a temporary physical display that will be converted into a permanent virtual exhibit.

The museum is open to nearly any sort of collection, which could consist of as few as three items, baring those with a focus on weapons or of a sexual or derogatory nature.

"I've heard we have one applicant (who) has a collection of cat whiskers she's collected over the past 20 years," Smith said. "Really, anything applies."

Applications are open through Feb. 12 with the exhibits planned to go live in early March.

For more, visit PentacrestMuseums.uiowa.edu/my-collections-participant-faq.

Designed to Win

The process of installing this latest collection on the museum's website helped inspire the "My Collections" project.

Set to go live online on Feb. 15, which is Presidents Day, the collection comes from Iowan collector J. Patrick White and showcases campaign buttons from winning presidential campaigns.

The display extends as far back as the 1890s. The message being conveyed in each pin will be explored as will aspects of manufacturing and material, particularly with regards to various periods and campaigns.

"This has been an opportunity for the education and engagement team to examine (White's) collections through detailed interviews with him about his personal collection," Smith said. "Though it's on the computer, it's an opportunity to pick (the buttons) up and look at them and get up close and personal with each one ... to explore a collection that would otherwise be private."

For more information, visit PentacrestMuseums.uiowa.edu/event/63261/0.

'Museum Weird'

"Museum Weird" is a podcast researched and produced by UI students released monthly after debuting in the latter half of 2020. So far, the show has four episodes averaging about 30 minutes in length.

Topics covered focus on museums and have, so far, ranged from "Haunted Museum Happenings" to "Museums in Movies."

► More: Amid ongoing pandemic, here are 8 eastern Iowa podcasts to listen to in 2021

"We are really lucky to employ University of Iowa students in our museums in a variety of different jobs," Smith said. "So when the pandemic hit their typical in-office work ... we worked really hard to make sure there were special projects for each student who wanted hours."

The podcast is available on most podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Museum Staff Picks

Staff picks is a short-form virtual video series in which museum staff members find something in the UI collections that they want to showcase. A video will be recorded where they briefly talk about the item for those who tune in.

The videos will begin going up soon with the start of the semester on UI Pentacrest's social media pages.

"They'll just be interesting short-form videos," Smith said. "It'll be an opportunity to get to know the faces behind the museum and also some of our (museum) items."

Old Capitol Round Table

An extension of what would typically be happening in a year, the UI Pentacrest Museums has converted the round tables to a virtual setting. Currently, organizers plan to hold three round table events this semester based on programming that was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"These will be virtual webinar-style Zoom sessions that focus on a range of topics that related to exhibits, current events or timely themes," Smith said.

Each round table will be hosted by UIPM's Director of Education & Engagement, Carolina Kaufman, and feature expert panelists on various topics. The first is set to be held from noon to 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 24 and is being done in collaboration with The League of Women Voters of Johnson County.

Though they require registration, the events are free to attend.

Find more information at PentacrestMuseums.uiowa.edu/old-capitol-round-table.

Isaac Hamlet covers arts, entertainment and culture at the Press-Citizen. Reach him at ihamlet@press-citizen.com or (319)-688-4247, follow him on Twitter @IsaacHamlet.

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