Six months after dramatic budget cuts, Texas Memorial Museum continues to operate

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Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

Six months after having its budget gutted, the Texas Memorial Museum is improving its financial situation, and attendance is slowly rising.

In September 2014, the University pulled funding for the Texas Natural Science Center, which included the Texas Memorial Museum, as part of a $600,000 budget cut. The center was essentially dismantled, leaving the Museum entirely financially independent, according to Edward Theriot, integrative biology professor and museum director.  

Today, the museum’s doors remain open as a result of outside funding, community outreach efforts and policy changes and despite a professional staff that’s less than half the size it was last year.

“We survived a massive budget cut, but we are not closed,” said Pamela Owen, associate director of the museum.

In addition to the museum, the Texas Natural Science Center also owned extensive paleontology and biology collections. As a result of the budget cut, the Jackson School of Geosciences and the Department of Integrative Biology took over the respective collections.

Despite the shift in ownership, specimens from the transferred collections are still on display at the museum. Owen said the exhibitions on display at the museum were not affected by the cuts.

“We still showcase specimens from those collections, so we’re the caretakers of them on exhibit,” Owen said.

Theriot said attendance and revenue were below projections for the first two months after the budget cut.

“As we went into the year, we were consistently low,” Theriot said. “It was concerning us, and what became apparent … was that people thought we were entirely closed.”

In the past several months, attendance has risen, although it’s still lower than what the staff had projected, Theriot said.

The museum is now running off $85,000 in private donations, a little over $108,000 in state funding and revenue from admissions and the museum’s gift shop.

“Fiscally this year, we are in good shape,” Theriot said.

The 84th Texas Legislature’s proposed House and Senate budgets would renew the state’s over $108,000 in funding for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

Until September, the museum was free to the public. Although admission is still free to students and faculty with a valid University ID, the museum now charges members of the public a general admission fee of $3–$4, depending on age, to account for the budget cuts. The museum has made $42,000 in ticket sales since September, Owen said.

The museum also received $75,000 in private donations from the Stillwater Foundation, which has been used to host free special events. Museum senior administrative associate Laura Naski Keffer said the events, such as National Fossil Day and Texas Wildlife Day, have helped spread the word about the museum.

“It kept us doing things we did before the massive cut,” Naski Keffer said. “It’s really nice to provide free events. Here we are: We switched to an admissions policy, but we can still figure out a way to make free events to the public.”

The museum staff was downsized to from eleven full-time employees to four, as well as a part-time IT staff member and six work-study students. Since the cuts, Theriot works part time as the director and full time as a University professor.

Theriot said staff members who were let go as a result of the cut were given ample time to find other jobs. Other staff members retired.

“The hardest thing was telling the staff, frankly,” Theriot said. “The slightly silver lining in all of this is that we were told this was going to happen well in advance.”