SYCAMORE – In third grade, Malwina Bardoni was assigned a project about her favorite field trip. Bardoni chose to write about her recent class trip to the museum.
Bardoni doesn’t remember which museum she went to, but she knows that it changed her life. In 2013, Bardoni received a graduate certificate in museum studies, and in 2016, she received a master’s degree in anthropology, both from Northern Illinois University. Bardoni also interned at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
This month, Bardoni became the new executive director of the Midwest Museum of Natural History, 425 W. State St. in Sycamore.
Bardoni comes to the museum at the cusp of recent changes, including renovations to the Discovery Den, new audio boxes, information on all of the animals featured in exhibits, new touch screens with custom programming and a tour accessible via mobile phone. The museum’s temporary exhibit “Water World,” featuring animals that live in salt and fresh water ecosystems, started Jan. 18 and will run through May 5.
The museum’s previous director, Cindy Khatri, will be stepping down from that role and stepping into the role of mother: she is eight months pregnant with a baby girl, due in April. Khatri has been involved with the museum for more than five years, as a volunteer, educator intern, a staff member and as the executive director for almost three years.
“I have every confidence in Malwina,” Khatri said. “She is an excellent pick for the next chapter of the museum. … I’m sad to step away, but I know the museum will be in good hands and with someone motivated, intelligent and creative.”
The public is invited to attend a reception to meet and greet Bardoni and say farewell to Khatri. It will be held from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9, at the museum.
MidWeek Reporter Katrina Milton met with Khatri and Bardoni to discuss the new director’s position, recent changes at the museum and goals for the museum’s future.
Milton: What do you like about museums?
Bardoni: Museums allow people to see items and objects from places they’ve never been. Museums let people learn about the natural world. People may not have the means to go to these places or see these objects anywhere else. … I love everything about museums and all different kinds of museums, but I love natural history best. I love how everything is intertwined, plays off of each other and tells a story.
Milton: Do you have a favorite object from a museum?
Bardoni: I don’t really have a favorite object. I love traveling to see different items in different museums. I remember seeing the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum in London. I loved seeing all the people amazed, looking at it. Museums and their objects bring people together.
Milton: Tell me more about the Discovery Den.
Khatri: When it first opened, it was more of a free-form space, where children could invent their own experience. Now, we’ve created a more guided experience, where they can learn while they play. Children and their parents and caregivers can have a shared experience. Nine out of 10 people say that what they love most about museums is sharing it with the people they’re with. … We’ve also added new carpeting, new safety features, a soft play area for babies and toddlers, discovery drawers where they can feel rabbit fur and see a skunk skull, a fossil dig with felt and clothes they can try on from different cultures. Our hide-and-seek mural was recently completed. Our motto in the Discovery Den is “Please touch.” We want children to be safe, have fun and remember that we are all humans, all the same species, all the same.
Milton: What do you like best about the Discovery Den?
Bardoni: I love that it’s hands on. In some museums, you just look through a glass case. Here, people can learn in all different ways. Some people learn by reading, others by looking or touching. The sensory experience is an entirely different way to explore, learn and think about the natural world.
Milton: Who is the museum’s target audience?
Bardoni: Museums are for everyone and anyone. We plan on increasing the museum’s programming for adults, and new touch screens in our exhibits will be installed next week. We want our visitors to engage with technology and learn about the specimen they see right in front of them.
Milton: What are you looking forward to the most as the museum’s new director?
Bardoni: My past experiences have set me up for success. Being the museum’s director is another step, another museum I can help and be a part of. I hope to make the museum more connected and prominent in the community. I am excited to be here and get to know the community and visitors to the museum.