Directors’ Letter 5th & University / July, 2020

Photo of Robert Saarnio by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss CommunicationsWarmest of greetings from your University of Mississippi Museum and our sister property William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak. Museum staff—and staff across the University campus-wide—have come back to on-campus work this first week of July and our team is in the building planning the many logistical steps to accommodate a safe and healthful early Fall re-opening. While we await University clearance to make the formal announcement, and as we monitor emerging public health circumstances, we have a tentative working plan that I will share with you here—knowing that our August issue of 5th & University, and our social media platforms, will convey the final official word.

We are striving to re-open the Museum in alignment with the start of the Fall semester, hence Tuesday, August 25—initially in the first two weeks to University faculty, students, and staff. And then with that experience having been reviewed and assessed, to open to the general public, members, and all stakeholders the day after return from Labor Day weekend—hence Tuesday September 8th. Please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter—and of course our website, or by a call to the now-staffed front desk (662-915-7073)—to verify that these aspirational dates are holding.

While space does not permit an extended description here, I’d like to outline in a few bullet points some of the key parameters and protocols of adapted and altered approaches that will be hallmarks of the re-opened Museum:

  • Masks / face-coverings mandatory—aligned with University requirements for indoor spaces across the entire campus
  • Augmented frequency and range of interior cleaning, and building hygiene procedures
  • Hand sanitizing stations throughout the building
  • Regular daily disinfecting of high-touch surfaces such as door handles and knobs, bathroom sinks and surfaces, water fountains, countertops, and classrooms
  • Adapted gallery and public space occupancy capacities—following University guidelines to maximize social & physical distancing. An example our frequent visitors will visualize is our off-the-lobby Speakers Gallery which previously held up to as many as 80 seated individuals for a public lecture, now likely to be capped at c. 25 occupants
  • Rowan Oak tour experience adjustments—multiple in number, most notably in sharply reduced occupancy for at-a-time tour capacity, and first ever credit card-reading point of sale payment, to minimize cash & currency handling.

And of course considerable adaptation in how we will delay any return to robustly-attended indoor public events and openings. Our beautiful landscaped surroundings and front plaza space may certainly serve us in good stead in this regard, and creative, vibrant online programming will also be assessed and offered. In a nutshell, as regards public programs we will have to be cautious, conservative, experimental, and flexible as we commit to a paradigm of visitor experience whose hallmarks are safety, public health, fresh air, and social distance-maximizing.


We also have joyous news to share this month, with word of the early-June arrival of Membership, Events, and Communications Coordinator Kate Wallace’s new son, Hayes! We want to collectively extend our warmest best wishes and heartfelt congratulations to Kate and her husband Matt and their family, for this exciting new addition to their household! Kate will return to her desk from her maternity leave in late-August.

As I draft these comments we are in mid-process of hiring two Recent Grad Interns to support initiatives on two fronts: the Antiquities reinstallation project in the Mary Buie Building, and collections processing of the now-acquired contents of Rowan Oak, as they formally enter accessioned status as property of Rowan Oak and the University. More word on our interns in the next issue—we are exceptionally happy to have donor-provided support for these two 12-month positions, being filled by 2020 University graduates who have worked brilliantly with our collections for over two years each.

In closing, let me extend a very sincere expression of hope and best wishes to everyone in the extended Museum community for your safety and health in this challenging time. We have missed you all so very much, and we look forward with great eagerness and anticipation to seeing you cross the threshold of our re-opened Museum and Rowan Oak front doors as the new semester commences.

As always, do not hesitate to reach out to any Museum staff member should you have any questions, our main reception desk # 915-7073 can connect you to all of us, and you may always reach me at and my mobile # 808-284-7380.

With gratitude for your enduring support, and the many thoughtful messages of encouragement and appreciation of our new online content that we have received. We are so thrilled to be back to work together as we plan the futures of the University of Mississippi Museum and Rowan Oak, in their continuing commitment to education, inspiration, and service to community.

Sincere Regards,

Robert Saarnio's signature
Robert Saarnio 
Museum Director