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June 19, 2007
Attendance up at VMNH Tuesday, June 19, 2007

By SHAWN HOPKINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Museum of Natural History has seen attendance figures increase by thousands of visitors a month since it moved to its new home on Starling Avenue in April.

With three new permanent exhibits opening soon, museum officials expect even more people to come through.

"Considering we're just barely into this new building, we're very happy with where we are," said Ryan Barber, director of marketing and external affairs for the museum.

"We feel like it's going to grow," he said.

The museum had a record 6,464 visitors in its opening month of April, 4,354 in May and expects a few thousand in June, Barber said.

At its old location on Virginia Avenue, Barber said, the museum averaged about 2,000 visitors a month, including programs, events and education programs.

Many people visiting the new museum come from out of state, Barber said, with some driving hundreds of miles just to see the museum.

"We feel like it's not only good for the museum, but good for Martinsville as well," he said.

The museum hopes to unveil "three major, permanent exhibits" soon, Barber said.

Construction of those exhibits should be finished at the end of this month, he said, although the museum also must obtain occupation certification from the state that will certify it safe to let visitors in the galleries. Barber said he expects the certificates to be awarded about that time.

The three exhibits include "Uncovering Virginia," which highlights the research and the finds of the museum's curators; "How Nature Works: Rocks" and "How Nature Works: Life."?

The exhibits include hands-on, interactive elements and multi-media, Barber said.

"It's not just bones behind a glass case," he said.

"How Nature Works: Rocks," for example, has a model volcano exhibit that people can walk through to learn about geological processes and the landscape of Virginia. It uses light and sound to represent lava flow.

"How Nature Works: Life" features a model sun and several mounted animals, such as a moose and black bear with cubs, to demonstrate how plants and animals get their energy from the sun, Barber said.

The designers of the exhibits have worked with museum curators for the last three years, using the latest technology and designs to create what Barber said will be "world class" exhibits. The exhibits would not have been possible in the old building because of space and other limitations, he said.

The museum's most recent traveling exhibits, "Chinasaurs" and "Feathered Dinosaurs," have closed. A new exhibit that will run June 30 to Jan. 20 will take a look at the events of Jamestown from a unique perspective.

"Beyond Jamestown: Virginia Indians Yesterday and Today" is an exhibit that worked with Virginia Indians to tell their story, including the story of Jamestown from the Indian perspective, Barber said.

"It's really significant this year because of the Jamestown (400th anniversary) celebration," Barber said.

The museum also is garnering a good deal of interest in its education programs, some of which are held at the museum and some at other places.