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August 26, 2007

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Sunday, August 26, 2007

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Museum of Natural History has seen an approximately 300 percent increase in visitors since moving into its new building on Starling Avenue in the spring, the museum's board of trustees learned Saturday.

An average of 5,100 people visited the museum monthly in April, May and June, Director of Marketing and External Affairs Ryan Barber told the board. Based on comparisons to monthly figures from previous years, the average showed increases each month of about 300 percent, he said.

Figures for months since June were not presented.

"We're well on our way" to reaching the museum's goal of 70,000 visitors for the fiscal year that started July 1, Barber said.

Barber acknowledged that 5,100 visitors each month for 12 months does not add up to 70,000 visitors. But with schools back in session, he expects the number of visitors to continue to rise, especially as school groups tour the museum, he said.

Despite the increasing number of visitors, the Virginia museum is not luring as many people as the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Barber pointed out. It attracts about 300,000 visitors per year, he said.

"But they're in Raleigh," he said, indicating that likely is why North Carolina's museum gets more visitors. Raleigh is North Carolina's capital and part of the burgeoning Triangle metropolitan area.

So far, people from 21 states have visited the Virginia museum's new building, said Barber.

Executive Director Tim Gette said the museum has seen quite a few visitors from South Carolina. Some have been from as far as California, he said.

The new 89,127-square-foot building is about five times larger than an old school building on Douglas Avenue which the museum had occupied since it opened in 1984 as a private institution. The state took over the museum about four years later.

A state bond bill covered the new building's $13 million cost.

Visitors seem to like what they see at the new building. Out of 158 who answered a question about their "overall museum experience" on a survey taken from mid-May through mid-June, 130 gave the museum the highest possible rating. That equates to 82.3 percent, statistics show.

The museum has received "overwhelmingly positive feedback" from visitors, said Barber. "Our goal is to continue that momentum."

In other matters Saturday, the museum board:

"Approved guidelines for renting space in the new museum building by people or organizations for meetings or similar types of events.

Rentals will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis for events that do not endanger or inconvenience museum staff and visitors, guidelines show.

Any obscene behavior would result in an event's immediate cancellation, according to the guidelines.

"Learned that the museum foundation's $5 million capital campaign has received $3.3 million in pledges. Of that amount, $2.3 million already has been collected, said Director of Development Nancy Bell.

The "Making a Lasting Impression" campaign is raising money to pay for the museum's new permanent exhibits.

"Learned that Curator of Marine Biology Judith Winston has been elected president of the American Microscopial Society.

She will be one of only a small number of museum professionals who have ever headed the society, Gette said.

"Learned that the 23rd Annual VMNH Indian Festival will be held Sept. 14-15 at Martinsville Middle School.