The City Museum has begun construction on a new aquarium — but unlike the dirty fish tanks
you may remember from past visits, this one is being built and managed in-house. They're calling it Artquarium — and the City Museum crew is inviting you to come
watch as they build it.
The museum evicted its World Aquarium, which leased the space as a private operator
, in 2015. The new exhibit aims to transform that old space, which is located on the museum's second floor.
"We started thinking about reprogramming the space a couple of years ago. It had so much Cassilly in it that we didn’t want to just lock the door. The crew started sketching about a year ago and demolishing what they didn’t need in November," says City Museum spokesman Richard Callow.
And even though it's a work in progress, there's plenty to see. The museum is touting the ongoing build as its largest work-in-progress since the four-story outdoor playground MonstroCity,
which began construction in 2000 and opened in 2002.
Artquarium, not surprisingly, is not your typical aquarium. The 11,000-square-foot installation will include hidden tunnels, slides, climbers and tubes containing fish. Guests will be able to view the fish as they climb over and under the tanks. And a new slide is being constructed on the fourth floor that spills you out into the Artquarium space.
Huge sculptures of a giant crab and septopus (that's a seven-legged octopus, natch)
are already finished. Now the crew is wanting to incorporate a sea horse and a narwhal sculpture. Would you expect anything less from the Cassilly Crew?
Senior welder and lead fabricator Mary Levi is working hard to put the "art" in Artquarium. She is used to being watched while at work.
"Kids will come up and ask me what I'm doing and before I get the time to explain, they run away," says Levi, laughing.
The Artquarium will feature hundreds of fish and other sea creatures. And if there is
one thing aquarist Matt Meyer guarantees, it's that there will be no shortage of sea horses any time soon. The museum started out with three, but thanks to the creatures doing what they do (and gestating a whole lot faster than humans, apparently), they have now multiplied to the thousands.
Meyer says the problems that plagued World Aquarium during its City Museum residency
won't be repeated. "It is our goal to give these animals the proper care they need throughout their entire lives," says Meyer.
Still, it's not easy housing life forms in a space that famously encourages its visitors to run wild. Staff
has been engaged in an ongoing "war on coins," Meyer says,
which has especially been a problem with the downstairs tank. The coins release toxins that can kill the fish, Meyer says, and there are risks of the larger fish ingesting them.
Another recurring problem, according to Callow: children have been caught stealing the turtles from the first-floor tank. Thanks to camera surveillance, the turtles are always rescued by the crew at the exit, Callow promises.
It's not just Artquarium underway currently. The museum,
which was purchased by amusement park company Premier Parks LLC in January 2019,
is also expanding its display of the work of George Grant Elmslie, who devised the ornamentation for Louis Sullivan’s architectural masterpiece, the Wainwright Building. The museum is also installing "a secret entrance to MonstroCity through a fire engine outside City Museum’s front door," it explains in a press release. (Callow says it's a goal to connect every floor through secret tunnels.) The museum says it spends about $1 million dollars annually on demolition, new installations and artifacts.
“The aquarium will never be ‘done’ because nothing in City Museum ever is. It’s in our DNA to change things, mostly for the better. Bob Cassilly would walk around the place at night with a sledgehammer and a sketchbook. That attitude endures. The very first image you get on the City Museum website
are the words ALWAYS BUILDING,” says Callow.
Admission to Artquarium is included with the purchase of a ticket to the City Museum. The exhibit will be open seven days a week.