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December 27, 2010
Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Monday, December 27, 2010

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Museum of Natural History will be closed on Sundays until the summer due to a lack of visitation on that day.

Income on Sundays has been less than the cost of operating the museum on that day, according to Marketing and External Affairs Director Ryan Barber.

Starting this week, the museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Its PALEO Cafe will open an hour earlier on weekdays.

The museum will reopen on Sunday afternoons from May 29 to Sept. 4.

Executive Director Joe Keiper said he expects demand for Sunday openings will be greater during the summer.

Opening seven days a week used to be standard practice for the museum, but budget cuts two years ago forced it to close on Sundays. The museum resumed Sunday operations on Sept. 5 on a temporary basis.

Sunday operating hours are 1 to 5 p.m.

Average visitation on Sundays has been 12 people, but the number on any given Sunday has ranged from four to 28, Barber said. Most of those people have been from out of town, he noted.

Those figures are "not enough to justify" opening on Sundays, he said. "It is definitely the weakest day for visitation."

Barber said it would seem reasonable that a lot more people would visit on Sundays because most people are off from work or school and able to drop by. He admitted that he and other staff at the state-supported museum do not know why Sunday visitation has not been higher.

The museum has been minimally staffed on Sundays, with only two security guards and a "box office person" - someone to collect admission fees and run the museum store and cafe - on duty, Barber said.

It costs the museum about $150 to be open on a Sunday, Barber said. That reflects wages for the three employees and does not include utility costs, which are not much, he said.

Yet average revenues on Sunday - including admission fees plus store and cafe sales - have been about $76, Barber said.

In comparison to Sunday visitation figures, on Saturdays the museum usually sees at least 30 visitors, and often many more, Barber indicated. He said if a special event is being held on a Saturday, visitation can be in the hundreds.

Friday afternoons and Saturdays generally are the busiest times for the museum, he said.

Overall visitation at the museum continues to be "strong," Barber said.

From July through November, the museum saw 12,164 visitors, statistics show. That compares to 12,593 visitors for the same period last year.

Considering school budget cuts and other economic concerns, Barber said museum officials are not worried about the slight drop. He mentioned that students make up a large percentage of the museum's weekday visitors.

Keiper said the museum wants to tailor its operating days and hours to fit the needs of its visitors. But it also has to operate as efficiently as possible, Barber said.

Museum officials hope some recently opened exhibits and displays will lure visitors.

Newer permanent attractions include the "Hahn Hall of Biodiversity," "Hooker Furniture Discovery Reef" and "Fossil Overlook."

On display temporarily is "Earth From Space." Presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the 20 information panels show large color reproductions of images captured by satellites circling the world.

Upcoming temporary exhibits include "Documenting Diversity" and "Animal Secrets," both of which will open Jan. 22.