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Dinos draw crowds to VMNH
Attendance expected to be up 10 percent this year
Sunday, May 19, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
An increase in visitors at the Virginia Museum of Natural History is being attributed largely to the popularity of two dinosaur-themed exhibits.
From July through March, the state-operated museum on Starling Avenue in Martinsville saw 21,591 visitors, according to statistics presented to its trustee board on Saturday.
About 4,700 people visited the museum in April, said Deputy Director Ryan Barber. That brings the visitation figure to about 26,300.
Barber said visitation is up over the same time last year, although he was unable to immediately provide comparable figures.
The museum gets about 30,000 visitors each fiscal year, Barber said.
He predicted a 10 percent increase in visitors for fiscal 2013 over the past year. That would mean about 33,000 visitors through June 30, he said.
Dinosaurs traditionally have been a big draw for the museum, officials have said.
A dinosaur sculpture made from balloons attracted roughly 1,500 people in April while it was being created and displayed, Barber said.
“People want to know how much hot air went into blowing up all those balloons,” trustee Mervyn King of Martinsville remarked humorously.
Board Chairman Sammy Redd of Martinsville said the balloon dinosaur “went viral,” attracting numerous views on the Internet from people worldwide.
On Jan. 12, more than 1,200 people attended Dino Day, when the exhibits “Dinosaurs” and “Dinosaur Discovery” opened. They will run through Aug. 25.
Such high attendance on one particular day is “a huge accomplishment” for any museum, Barber said.
He said he expects high attendance through at least the summer because the museum gets most of its visitors from out of town during that season.
Also Saturday, the trustees expressed an interest in eventually increasing salaries of museum employees, although they acknowledged funds are not available to do so now due to state budget constraints.
A salary survey done by Executive Director Joe Keiper showed that most employees are earning between 10 percent below and 10 percent above median salaries for comparable jobs at museums and other institutions statewide. A few workers earn more or less, the survey revealed.
Redd said the salary survey did not take into account the salaries for jobs in Northern Virginia or at the University of Virginia. He indicated that salaries in those places are so high they would have skewed comparisons.
Board members generally think that museum employees are not being paid enough, according to Redd. Specific salaries were not discussed.
Employees will get a 2 percent, across-the-board raise that all state workers will receive effective July 1, but that barely will keep up with inflation, he said.
“Money is just not there right now ... to supplement what the state is doing,” he added.
The salary survey will “put us in a stronger position ... for when the timing is right in the future” to ask state officials for more money, said trustee Melissa Neff Gould of Richmond, who was elected to succeed Redd as chairman.