Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Extinction Event?

"The great American natural history museum could be headed for the vulnerable species list, alongside the polar bear and the redwood tree," writes Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times.

According to Boehm, the bottom line has been sinking into the red by $300,000 on average and some leading institutions have winnowed their staffs as a result. The staff has shrunk almost a third at the Smithsonian Institution's natural history museum in Washington, D.C., since 2000, for example.

Boehm stresses the negative impact such cutbacks are having on research, an important function of natural history museums, but he also notes that during the same time art museums have outperformed them.

Natural history museums need to look for ways to appeal to audiences brought up on the Internet, cell phones, and IPods. The same dated, dusty old exhibits will no longer do the job.

Research is important, but the other great aim of natural history museums, public education, is particularly crucial just now. The popular Darwin exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History is an example of what can be done.

Designing exhibitions that educate and entertain can draw large crowds back into the nation's natural history museums. That will increase revenues, and those new revenues will support research.


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