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Exhibit updates proposed

Sunday, August 24, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Reinvigorating permanent exhibits could be part of the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s vision plan for the next five years.

“We have excellent exhibits,” Executive Director Joe Keiper told the museum’s Board of Trustees on Saturday.

However, he said, having been in the museum building on Starling Avenue in Martinsville since it opened in 2007, some of the exhibits possibly could be updated to reflect advances in science and technology. New scientific specimens also could be added to exhibits, he said.

He did not provide specific possibilities.

Such improvements could help attract more visitors to the museum because people would see things they have not seen before, he indicated.

The museum recently completed a two-year vision plan entitled “A Museum Without Walls.” The title alludes to efforts to make the state-funded facility more visible statewide.

Outcomes of the plan included a new traveling exhibits program, an expanded online presence and expanded teacher education activities in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

Museum officials are starting to preparing a five-year plan with the same theme. They aim to have it ready for the board to consider in February.

Ideas that Keiper mentioned could be part of the plan include:

• Sending popular “column case” exhibits in the Great Hall on the road to other venues more often when the museum develops others to replace them.

Some of the smaller exhibits that have been sent to the Rockfish Valley Foundation Natural History Center in Nellysford have been popular there and could be elsewhere, Keiper said.

• Integrating distance learning activities into all aspects of the museum’s work through electronic communications technology.

That could be accomplished through video live streams and podcasts of programs and activities, Keiper said. He noted that it already is done on a limited basis.

• Hiring more educators to do outreach programs throughout the state. Currently, the museum has four outreach educators in the Charlottesville area and one in the Newport News area, Keiper said.

• Launching a branch museum in the Waynesboro area. Planning for such a facility has started, although it has not yet been decided for certain that the branch will be developed.

• Replacing lighting at the Martinsville museum with energy-efficient LED lighting. Not only will it save on energy costs, but it also will be less harsh on exhibits than other types of light, according to Keiper.

Board member Mervyn King of Martinsville said he understands an LED light bulb can last up to 20 years and costs about $1.06 a year to use.

That is “doggone cheap” compared to other forms of lighting, King said.

The five-year vision plan would take the museum through 2020. It, too, will be called “A Museum Without Walls.”

Keiper suggested that it be developed in a “two plus three” manner so that after two years it can be re-evaluated to see if changes are needed.

Also Saturday, the museum board elected Martinsville-area native Christina Draper its new chairman. She previously was vice chairman.

Draper, a senior program manager for the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, has worked for museums in the past.

For that reason, board member Sammy Redd of Martinsville said he believes “we could not have a better person to lead us.”

Draper replaces Missy Neff Gould of Danville, who left the board to join the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

The board adopted a resolution honoring Neff, a six-year member who was chairman for a year, for her service. She was not at the meeting.

Board member James W. Severt II of Washington, D.C., another former local resident, was elected the new vice chairman. Severt is an attorney.

The board also:

• Approved a one-time, 5 percent salary bonus for Keiper following a closed session held to evaluate his job performance. The vote was unanimous.

Keiper earns about $110,000 annually. His bonus will be about $5,500.

Draper said Keiper has done good work.

Keiper came to the museum in 2010. He told the board that he plans to remain in his post “for the long-term.”

• Learned that Gloria Niblett, the museum’s director of administration and services, was a finalist in Virginia Business magazine’s recent “CFO Awards” competition for chief financial officers of businesses and institutions.

Although Niblett was not a winner, the fact that she was nominated was a “real feather in the cap for the museum” in terms of prestige, Keiper said.

• Adopted a resolution honoring Alton “Butch” Dooley Jr., the museum’s curator of paleontology, who will leave at the end of the month to be the executive director of the Western Science Center in Hemet, Calif.

The board’s research and collections committee has approved a continuing affiliation with the museum for Dooley as a research associate, according to Monica Monday of Martinsville, who heads the committee.

“We were all disappointed” that he is leaving, Monday said, “but it’s a great opportunity for him.”

Also, his hiring for a top post “reflects well on the museum” and the quality of its staff, she said.

The museum has begun advertising for a new paleontology curator with a goal of hiring one by next summer, said Deputy Director Ryan Barber.

The long time frame is necessary, Barber said, to reach as many people as possible due to the limited number of people in the field of paleontology as well as to conduct an extensive interviewing process.


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