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May 4, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, May 4, 2008

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Since it moved into a new building in March 2007, the Virginia Museum of Natural History has lured visitors from as far as California and Europe, according to Executive Director Tim Gette.

"We're getting visitors from all over the United States," Gette said, but most are from "within a 250- to 300-mile radius of Martinsville."?

That is "our core audience" in terms of marketing efforts, he said.

"It shows our marketing plan is working," added museum board of trustees Chairman George Lyle.

The museum has drawn many visitors from all over Virginia as well as from North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York state, Gette said.

Yet "most of our visitors are either from Virginia or North Carolina," he said. He estimated that probably 75 percent to 80 percent of museum visitors are from those two states, but he did not have exact percentages Saturday.

Many people who traveled from farther distances came to the museum as part of vacations in Virginia. Many of them became aware of the museum through packets of information on statewide attractions they received from the Virginia Tourism Corp., according to Gette.

Gette said the museum also has seen people from out of town who used to live in the Martinsville area and came back to visit relatives, as well as more people from the Roanoke and Richmond areas than visited in the past.

The museum does not track the impact its out-of-town visitors have on the local economy, such as which other attractions they visit and how much money they spend, he said.

But he knows they visit other attractions. For instance, he has been told that visitors have stopped by the Artisan Center uptown after leaving the museum, he said.

The museum has a kiosk in its lobby with information on various attractions in the area.

Last spring, the museum moved into a new 89,127-square-foot building on Starling Avenue that is five times as large as its previous location, the former Joseph Martin Elementary School on Douglas Avenue. The high-tech exhibits in the new museum building are more modern than the previous exhibits.

Statistics show that between April 2007 and April 2008, the museum had 53,028 visitors. That is a 252-percent increase over the average April to March visitation of 21,074 people the museum saw in the old building during the past three calendar years.

Average monthly visitation in the 2007-08 period was 4,419 people.
The museum's total admissions income of $104,200 since April 2007 is a 492 percent increase over the average admissions income of $21,167 from the previous two April-to-March calendar years, statistics show.

Total sales at the museum's gift store from July 1 through March 31 were about $47,534. The store averaged sales of only about $3,000 per year at the museum's former location, Marketing and External Affairs Director Ryan Barber told the museum's board of trustees Saturday.

Board members were delighted to learn how well the museum is doing at its new location.

Lyle noted that visitation has risen at a time when gasoline prices have increased, making it harder for people to travel.

"Can we sustain this growth? I'm optimistic we can," he said.

Vice Chairman Pam Armstrong, also of Martinsville, said she was hoping to see visitation double. But with a 250-percent increase, "I am so extremely proud of the museum," she said.

"We knew it would go up, but we didn't know how much," she said of the visitation.

Lyle said "we really had no reference points" to gauge.
Construction of the new building was a major milestone in the museum's history.

Now, the museum is planning for another milestone: Celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.

Barber will chair an anniversary committee, to be comprised of staff and volunteers, that will develop a series of commemorative events.
In other matters, the museum board on Saturday:

"Learned that a $150,000 cut in state funds imposed on the museum will largely be made up by not filling the position of former curator of vertebrate paleontology Nick Fraser.

Fraser, who also was the museum's director of research and collections, left in December to work at the Royal Museum of Scotland in his homeland.

The rest of the cut will be made up through "small things that add up," said Barber, such as energy-saving measures and taking out some phones at the Douglas Avenue building, where the museum still houses some collections.
"Approved its officers for the coming fiscal year.

Armstrong will be chairman. Lee Lester of Martinsville will be vice chairman. Novel Martin of Roanoke will continue to be treasurer and LeAnn Binger of Petersburg will remain secretary.

"Learned the museum has received a 2008 MUSE Award for the Carmel Church exhibit in its "Uncovering Virginia" gallery.

The award, presented by the American Association of Museums, recognizes the best in multimedia design of exhibits, Barber said.

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