The show, which opens April 16 and doesn't yet have a closing date, is intended to mark two events - the approach of a new millennium and the spring groundbreaking for the museum's $16.7 million Collection Storage and Study Wing.
The idea, not an entirely original one, is for various celebrities to visit the museum's vast storerooms and select their favorite object or objects to display. They'll have plenty from which to choose: The museum's internationally renowned collections include more than one million archaeological and anthropological artifacts.
The exhibition is intended to "give people a taste of the various surprises and delights that are in our storage," said Pam Kosty, a museum spokeswoman.
In 1952, the museum did a less ambitious version of this same show: It asked seven artists - all men, including sculptor Jacques Lipchitz and Museum of Modern Art director Rene d'Harnoncourt - to make selections from the museum's storerooms.
The idea has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, with institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York opening their collections to outsiders and constructing exhibitions from the results.
Among the celebrities who will be involved in the University of Pennsylvania Museum's spring exhibition: city planner (and father of Kevin) Edmund Bacon, Philadelphia Museum of Art director (and daughter of Rene) Anne d'Harnoncourt, architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, the Princess of Thailand (Maha Chakri Sirindhorn), and Robert Runcie, the 102d Archbishop of Canterbury.
Another major event in the museum world will be the May debut of the first of nine new long-term exhibitions at the Franklin Institute, "The Sports Challenge."
Geared to adults and older children, the show will transform the museum's current mechanics gallery into a sports arena. It will feature several participatory and virtual-reality components, including a rock-climbing wall, a pitching cage and a hoop challenge.
Philadelphia's other major science museum will offer its own immersive exhibition in February, when it opens "Secrets of Amazonia." Aided by special lighting, sound effects and a man-made tropical forest, visitors to the Academy of Natural Sciences will explore the lifestyles of the indigenous inhabitants of the Brazilian Amazon. This is the kind of show, like its recent tribute to Antarctica, that the academy generally pulls off with aplomb.
Among the city's smaller exhibiting institutions, the most ambitious undertaking may be a spring show by the Library Company of Philadelphia pegged to July's Republican National Convention. Its rather unwieldy title is "Realignment & Revolution - The Republican Party from its Beginnings in the 1850s to the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson." Expect the Library Company's usual scholarly and thorough treatment of the topic and period.
Other shows to watch for: the University of Pennsylvania's fall exhibition on Pomo basketry, which generated raves when it was at the Heye Center in New York, and two Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies exhibitions on Arab Americans, opening in February and March.
Also in the spring, look for the Atwater Kent Museum's planned treasures show, featuring the best of its collections and those of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.