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Archive for Thursday, March 5, 2009

KU museums see increased attendance in tough economic times

Sandy Stenger and granddaughter Gaby Canedo, 6, examine the fur on a polar bear in the panorama room at the KU Natural History Museum in this 2009 file photo. The Natural History Museum, like other museums on campus, has seen an upswing in visitors during the economic recession.

Sandy Stenger and granddaughter Gaby Canedo, 6, examine the fur on a polar bear in the panorama room at the KU Natural History Museum in this 2009 file photo. The Natural History Museum, like other museums on campus, has seen an upswing in visitors during the economic recession.

March 5, 2009

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Museums a bright spot in dark economy

KU museums have grown in popularity as a result of the recession, but the tight times are having unique consequences. Enlarge video

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Attendance is booming at Kansas University museums during the economic recession, and for more than one reason, museum officials said.

There are those like Mindy Dick, of Lawrence, who are taking advantage of the affordable educational opportunities the museums offer. The Natural History Museum and Spencer Museum of Art are both free — contribution based — institutions.

“It’s great. … The kids love it, and it’s very cost-effective,” Dick said during a recent visit to the Natural History Museum with her family.

But Spencer director Saralyn Reece Hardy said many people also are visiting museums more as a form of refuge from the dreary economy, and are immersing themselves in exhibits.

“It’s a way of living several lives at once and people seem to understand and revel in the fact that a museum is not only a place to find yourself, but it’s also a place to lose yourself,” she said.

The Natural History Museum recorded an 8 percent increase in visitors between August 2008 and February 2009, compared with the same time period one year ago. It saw 12,500 visitors during the last six months.

“We just ask for contributions at the door and that allows us to, I think, attract more people than some activities that might cost more money,” said Jen Humphrey, museum communication director. The museum requests a suggested $5 contribution from adults and $3 from seniors and children.

Spencer recorded a 10 percent increase in visitors during the 2007 fiscal year, which runs from July 2006 through June 2007, over the year before. Results for 2008 were not available from the museum, though Hardy said: “Attendance at the museum is very high right now.”

Though the numbers have reportedly gone up, museum officials are awaiting word on any negative effects the economic downturn will have on their institutions, as the Kansas Legislature works to determine how much to cut state budgets. The museums receive much of their funding support from the state.

“We’re very much affected by the economy and the decisions of the Legislature,” Humphrey said. “Any deep cuts that are made in state funding hurt all of KU.”

The museums have already made adjustments, in anticipation of a budget reduction. Beginning in December, the Natural History Museum closed on Mondays, which should save the museum about $10,000 a year on utility and salary costs, Humphrey said. At Spencer, museum officials shaved one hour each day off gallery hours.

“We’re paying attention and we’re trying to be very fiscally responsible,” Hardy said. “We’re waiting to see what next year brings.”

Neither museum would say exactly what effect future budget cuts would have on their operations.

While times are rocky, the museums are working to reach out and pull in an even higher number of museum viewers, by hosting special events and children’s groups.

Anything to get guests in the door. “We would love to see more people here,” Humphrey said.

Comments

kristenkim 5 years, 9 months ago

Thank God there's something positive coming out of this economic crisis!

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 9 months ago

KU needs to spend more money on their museums. The Archaeology museum at Spooner Hall has been closed for several years. Many exhibits at the Natural History are looking shabby, including many of the displays in the panarama room. I think there aren't going to be a lot of return visitors if the museums don't maintain or improve their exhibits.

gr 5 years, 9 months ago

"The Natural History Museum and Spencer Museum of Art are both free — contribution based — institutions." "“We just ask for contributions at the door and that allows us to, I think, attract more people than some activities that might cost more money,” said Jen Humphrey, museum communication director. The museum requests a suggested $5 contribution from adults and $3 from seniors and children."

Ok. Free, contribution based, we 'suggest' $5.

Why does this remind me of: 'Bubba and I are here to ask for "donations" for the "protection" of your business'?

ThatGirl2 5 years, 9 months ago

What is wrong with requesting a donation and suggesting an appropriate amount? Anyone who has been to the museums in recent years knows no one is hassling people for money as they come in.....

gr 5 years, 9 months ago

Well, nothing wrong, really, if they aren't standing there saying, hint, hint. I just think giving a dollar amount sounds more like an expected, obligated admission price. Perhaps they could say something like, many give $5. But, even that conveys the meaning of, you are scum if you don't.

Do you have a suggestion so it doesn't come across as a bathroom 'attendant' with their hand out saying, I take tips?

tir 5 years, 9 months ago

Good article--it's nice to see KU's museums get some recognition for the positive impact they have on the community and the state, especially in tough budget times. Too often we forget or undervalue what institutions like KU have to offer, and universities are always high on the list when legislators are looking for ways to cut the state budget. The Anthropology Museum was sacrificed in order to satisfy a big budget cut the state imposed several years ago. Let's hope that the remaining museums will survive the current crisis and continue to inspire and educate people.

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