Texas Memorial Museum

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.”

Cara Baily, 2, points at the fossilized skeleton of a rabbit in the Texas Memorial Museum on Wednesday afternoon. National Fossil Day was started in 2010 by the National Parks Department to get the public interested in fossil heritage.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Families, children and students viewed and touched various rocks and fossils Wednesday at the Texas Memorial Museum’s National Fossil Day celebration.

National Fossil Day was started in 2010 by the National Park Service in an effort to engage the public. Wednesday’s event at the museum was co-hosted by the Paleontological Society of Austin. Pamela Owen, Texas Memorial Museum associate director, said the annual event is a great way to reach people in Central Texas.

“It’s a way to get the public interested and informed about our fossil heritage and the fossil’s importance in terms of scientific value and how fossils tell us about what life was like in the past,” Owen said. “Specifically, here for us in Texas, we’ve got this beautiful fossil record that we can [use] to demonstrate a snapshot of millions of years of evolution.”

Suzanne Galigher, vice president and show chair of the Paleontological Society, said National Fossil Day serves to promote education and exploration for those of all ages.

“It’s all about educating the public about fossils and stewardship, conservation and things like that,” Galigher said. “We do kids’ activities; there are speakers and hands-on stuff, anything to get the kids and the public excited about the natural treasures in their backyard.”

Noting that children are often drawn toward playing with dinosaurs, Galigher said kids are often fascinated with the life-size artifacts on display.

“For young kids, they are naturally curious, and one of the things that they have found is that paleontology is often considered to be the gateway to science because kids are naturally drawn to dinosaurs,” Galigher said. “It’s one of the first natural science things they are introduced to.”

Galigher said introducing kids to paleontology is important because it opens doors for additional paths of scientific interest. She said this introduction could lead them toward studies that could influence their career paths.

“If you get them excited when they’re young, then as they get older, they build, and then they start branching out into the other sciences,” Galigher said. “Paleontology is biology and geology kind of put together, and then they might start discovering chemistry, or they might discover physics.”

In addition to showcasing artifacts, the society had volunteers on hand to examine items that guests brought in.

“We had a guy bring in something that had been in his family for a really long time from the 1930s when they owned some land, which became part of Big Bend National Park,” said Michael Smith, Paleontology Society membership chair. “It was at least one whole skeleton of something that looked like a little rodent of some sort, which is something you just don’t find. Particularly, as amateurs, it’s just incredibly rare to find something like that, in Texas anyway.”

The Texas Memorial Museum is the main exhibit hall of the Texas Natural Sciences Center. Faculty Council met Feb. 17 to addressed concerns regarding new ways to fund the museum.

Photo Credit: Zoe Davis | Daily Texan Staff

A recent budget cutting decision by the College of Natural Sciences would not only impact the budget of the Texas Memorial Museum but are instead targeted at the entire Texas Natural Science Center, which the museum is a part of.

According to its website, the Center works to create awareness and appreciation of biological diversity, especially in Texas. In addition to the museum, the Center oversees both vertebrate and non-vertebrate paleontology labs, as well as the Texas Natural History Collections. 

Edward Theriot, integrative biology professor and director of the Texas Memorial Museum, said the Center will be organized out of existence starting next fall. 

Theriot said different parts of the Center’s collection have already started moving to other colleges, including the paleontological collection, which moved to the Jackson School of Geosciences last fall. 

“What I have been told about the collections is as of the last discussion I had with [Linda Hicke, dean of the College of Natural Sciences], there was no plan at this time to cut the
operational funding for the collections,” Theriot said. “Technical, web and administrative support will become the responsibility of existing resources at the other entities.” 

Theriot said, as of right now, more than $600,000 will be cut from the Center’s budget starting next semester. Theriot said the center had an operational budget of over $1 million before the paleontological collection was moved. 

At the Faculty Council meeting last week, a resolution was passed that encourages the museum to find independent funding for its community outreach programs. 

William Beckner, mathematics professor and chair-elect of the Faculty Council, worked with the Faculty Council executive council to write the resolution. He said they wrote the resolution after Mona Medhy, cell and molecular biology associate professor, emailed him and asked Faculty Council to consider the museum’s situation.

Beckner said the goal of the resolution was to encourage the museum to look elsewhere for funding. 

“I recognize the financial constraints on the University’s operating budget,” Beckner said. “The goal was to support the museum but not to tell the University how to fund it.”

Medhy said she reached out to Beckner in order to promote discussion about potential solutions to the museum’s position. 

“My point was: Is there any way to help this museum financially, at least in the short term?” Medhy said. “I felt that it was important for our faculty, or anybody who is interested in this topic, to see what the University could provide besides relying simply on the College of Natural Sciences.”

Theriot said he appreciates support from the faculty, but the resolution did not change the museum’s financial situation. 

“Honestly, it puzzles me,” Theriot said. “It doesn’t mean anything to us because that’s what we’ve been working toward since October, when [Hicke] told me that we were being cut. My life and the museum’s life was the same the day before the Faculty Council resolution and the same the day after. It has had no effect whatsoever.”

Theriot said he is currently working on developing a business model to establish a new source of revenue for the museum. He said the museum’s general infrastructure will have to be adjusted to remain fiscally solvent.

“I think the museum and what it does and the services it provides are going to have to be rethought from the bottom up in order to get a good grasp on what sort of recurring funding we’ll have, which should come from admissions,” Theriot said. “The first thing we need to do is get it off of life support and get through this admissions phase, [and] then see where we can go from there.”

Faculty Council unanimously passed a resolution requesting the Texas Memorial Museum’s community outreach activities be financed independently from the University at its meeting Monday.

The museum, which is set to lose approximately $600,000 in funding this September, currently subsists on a mixture of state and University funding, as well as gift-shop sales and donations.

“The museum does provide an education resource for a number of UT classes, including signature classes,” said William Beckner,
mathematics professor and chair-elect of Faculty Council. “Over a thousand UT students benefit from this.”

Such financial independence would allow the museum to continue its educational role within UT and the region, according to Beckner.

“Our first priority should be the education of students,” Beckner said.

Faculty Council also discussed the response from vice president and chief financial officer Kevin Hegarty to a resolution passed at its last meeting that requested more information about the Shared Services plan.

The Shared Services Plan calls for the centralization of University human resources, finance, procurement and information technology services. According to UT officials, the plan also calls for the elimination of 500 jobs, which will take place primarily through natural attrition and retirement.

In January, Hegarty responded to the resolution with a variety of information, including a list of schools that have volunteered to participate in a pilot program. According to Hegarty, both the McCombs School of Business and the College of Liberal Arts have implemented centralized services to some degree.

“Shared Services for certain activities does have the potential to save more money if we aggregate that to more particular spots,” Hegarty said at the meeting.

Faculty Council chairwoman Hillary Hart discussed Hegarty’s response and said there are 11 departments that are either currently involved in some form of Shared Services or want to participate as volunteers, but none have been selected for the pilot program.

Also at the meeting, President William Powers Jr. addressed the recent weather closures, specifically the series of decisions the University made before closing campus Jan. 28.

University officials sent three notifications between 4:55 a.m. and 11:26 a.m. that day, first announcing normal operating hours and then later closing the campus for the day.

“We get it that it turned out terribly,” Powers said. “It was a very unusual weather phenomenon. We obviously get the point that changing at eight in the morning is not the ideal.”

Pat Clubb, vice president of University Operations, said emergency preparedness officials would now make follow-up calls throughout the morning after they make any decision about closing campus.

In this week's podcast, Jacob Kerr, Amanda Voeller and guests Julia Brouillette and Nicole Cobler talk about the Univeristy's handling of Tuesday's inclement weather. They also discuss a proposal submitted by three student leaders to the University and UT System to increase tuition for non-resident students and a UT alumna's petition to restore funding for the Texas Memorial Museum.

Because of a $600,000 budget cut in the College of Natural Sciences, Texas Memorial Museum is on the verge of letting go eight of its 11 employees. More than 1,750 people have signed a petition opposing the cut in an attempt to preserve the 75-year-old museum.

Correction: The original caption misstated the amount of the budget cut. The cut is $600,000.

Photo Credit: Eunice Ali | Daily Texan Staff

More than 1,750 people have signed a petition opposing the budget cut to the Texas Memorial Museum, which would cause eight of 11 employees to lose their jobs, according to the UT alumna Mary Newcomb, the petition’s founder.

In September, the College of Natural Sciences announced plans to cut approximately $600,000 from the Texas Natural Science Center, which includes the Texas Memorial Museum, according to Edward Theriot, director of the Natural Science Center. Currently, the Center’s total budget is $860,000.

“We will be able to make up some of the University’s cuts but not all of them,” Theriot said. “It will have a traumatic effect.”

Newcomb will be meeting with natural sciences dean Linda Hicke on Monday to raise concerns about the cut. 

“It seems that, if you’re cutting the museum funding back that far, you’re basically giving it a death sentence,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb, whose father was director of the museum from 1957-1978, said the budget cut would harm the important educational tools the natural history museum provides.

“It’s been an important resource for local school children and teachers, as well as students at the University studying paleontology, biology or art,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb said she is worried that, if budget cuts are implemented, exhibits will not be maintained as well.

Hicke was not available for comment, according to natural sciences spokesman Lee Clippard.

Clippard said larger state budget cuts over the last several years have made the museum difficult to fund. Clippard said the college wants to focus its funding on its undergraduate students, faculty and staff.

Louise Meeks, manager of the museum’s gift shop, said her job would most likely remain intact because the gift shop is self-funded. Meeks, though, signed the online petition to preserve the museum’s funding. 

“It’s very unnerving because I wonder what’s going to happen to the institution as a whole,” Meeks said. “I’m very discouraged by what’s happening and I’m afraid that, if we don’t get any state support, the museum will close down.”

Meeks said she has already noticed changes in the museum, including the departure of one employee who left because they knew their job would be cut. A case of modern mammal skulls was completely removed from the museum, and Meeks said the staff has discussed removing other collections as well.

Since the planned cuts were announced, two additional employees have retired, and Theriot said these positions will not be filled, which will help save money.

If implemented, budget cuts to the 75-year-old museum will result in the elimination of several administrative and technology support staff jobs, bringing the museum’s staff from 11 positions to three. Theriot’s job would also be changed so that it would no longer guarantee him a summer salary. 

“Exactly what my duties would be are still be discussed,” Theriot, who does not teach any classes this semester, said. “I would be a professor first and director of the museum second.”  

Theriot said the remaining positions would include a security guard, gift shop manager and an administrative assistant.

“It would be very difficult to operate the museum with three people, and we’re making every effort we can to make sure it doesn’t get to that,” Theriot said. 

To generate revenue, Theriot said he has considered charging an admission fee for the museum. If the museum had an admission fee, it would have to independently pay for custodial staff, electricity and water, possibly making its budget problems worse.

“My personal perspective is we should be conservative in our budgeting,” Theriot said. “I’d rather have money left over at the end of the year than cut a bunch of staff.”

In this week’s The Daily Texan podcast, Bobby Blanchard, Christine Ayala and Jordan Rudner discuss the developments in Texas’ new abortion law. They also talk about the conflicts behind casting in the College of Fine Arts, and the budget cuts at the Texas Memorial Museum. Check out the podcast below:

Exhibit designer John Maisano presents the halted design plans for the Texas Memorial Museum’s fourth floor exhibit on Monday afternoon. Maisano not only lost his plans, but may also lose his 14 year long employment at the museum due to severe budget cuts in University funds.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Memorial Museum will lose nearly $400,000 in University funds and experience a staff reduction from 11 employees to three as a result of budget cuts, which will be implemented on Sept. 1 of next year.

The on-campus museum, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, currently operates on an annual budget of $600,000. Without University funding, that budget will shrink by more than two-thirds. 

The Museum will continue to receive $108,000 in state funding and $50,000 from gift shop sales, and raises roughly $50,000 in donations annually, though museum administrators hope that number will increase. The three remaining positions will include a security guard, gift shop operator and one other employee. 

“I’m still not entirely sure what the best skill-set will be for the remaining staff member or members to have,” said Edward Theriot, integrative biology professor and museum director. “The security guard’s job will be security, the gift shop operator’s job is going to be the gift shop and it will fall upon that third person to take care of everything else that the museum does. That’s the hardest piece the puzzle — to figure out what’s going to be the best solution there.” 

The Texas Memorial Museum is a part of the Texas Natural Science Center, an organized research unit within the College of Natural Sciences. The center was established to promote research and educational activities surrounding biodiversity. 

Lee Clippard, College of Natural Sciences spokesman, said the decision to cut the Museum’s funding comes from the College of Natural Sciences dean’s office. 

“The [museum] has long been an important fixture on the UT campus and is a wonderful resource for our community and visitors to campus,” Clippard said. “Unfortunately, the budget situation at the University and in the College of Natural Sciences is such that we must make difficult decisions.”

Natural Sciences Dean Linda Hicke was not available for comment.

Theriot, who will also lose his job at the museum, has been tasked with finding alternative sources of revenue and deciding the best strategy for a museum with dramatically reduced staff.

“I don’t doubt that the decision was made with some anguish and difficulty,” Theriot said. “I’m not complaining — my job is to try to find a solution and for the last two weeks that’s what I’ve been out there trying to do. I’ve met with a dozen stakeholders within and outside the University. In some ways we’ve been anticipating this [but] I do wish it was coming two or three more years down the road where we’d be in a much better position with the things we’re trying to do.”

Theriot said a museum program that employs students may not survive the budget cut.

Holly Hansel, a studio art senior and work-study student for the museum, said eliminating the student docent program would be taking away a rare opportunity. 

“As docents, we lead tours and do a lot of intern-type help and it would be a shame to see the opportunity to be an actual tour leader to be taken away,” Hansel said.

Theriot said the museum, which receives more than 90,000 visitors every year, had been working towards a more stable income involving more outside funding over the past several years.

Hansel, who assisted at the museum’s annual Halloween festival last weekend, said the event was bittersweet. The event was one of several the museum hosts throughout the year to educate and connect with the community.

“[There] was a great turnout, we had over 2,000 kids there,” Hansel said. “I’m glad we got to do that but some of the workers were a bit misty-eyed because this may be their last Halloween even at the museum.” 

John Maisano, museum exhibits designer for nearly 14 years, said he is unsure about what the future holds. 

“I would love to continue [working] in the museum world of course, but museum jobs are just not easy to come by,” Maisano said. “We’re all just in a really scary place, but I don’t feel like I’m finished here. There’s so much I wanted to do.”

The National Fossil Day website was closed Wednesday because of the shutdown, but the Texas Memorial Museum still celebrated the day with a workshop about fossils and fossil identification.

Pamela Owen, senior biodiversity educator at the museum, offered her expertise to visitors throughout the day. Owen said she frequently identifies fossils for people over email using photographs, but for National Fossil Day the museum provided a chance for people to show her their fossils.

“Have you ever watched ‘Antiques Roadshow’ on PBS?” Owens said. “We don’t appraise, we don’t say, ‘Oh, it’s worth this [amount],’ but it’s that personal interaction and getting the whole story like, ‘Where did you find it?’ There’s something really rewarding about doing identifications in person.”

Edward Theriot, Texas Natural Science Center director, said Central Texas is a great place to hunt for fossils, so many people use the museum as a resource for identifying what they find. 

“We have to provide an access to science for the public,” Theriot said. “The University has a role in service to that state. The museum is a component of that.”

He said the museum offers students and graduates the opportunity to reach out and connect with the public using the information they learn in the classroom. Approximately 400 local teachers use museum resources every year, Theriot said.

James Sagebiel is the collection manager for the vertebrate fossil collection, which is part of the Jackson School of Geosciences.

“The fossil collections split from the Texas Memorial Museum very recently,” Sagebiel said.

The fossil collection has always been owned by the geosciences school, but the school separated from the College of Natural Sciences in 2005. Administration is still working to separate the collection from the natural sciences college. The main fossil exhibits will remain in the Texas Memorial Museum.

Owen said the exhibit is an important part of education at every level because fossils help students understand history.

“We are celebrating fossils by educating people,” Owen said. “Unfortunately, because of the government shutdown, you can’t see the National Fossil Day website but you would see that it’s really becoming a big deal. It’s growing.”

Theriot said he believes the work of the museum and the fossil exhibit are key to understanding the past, present and future.

“The reason the past is important to me is that we understand what the future might be like,” Theriot said. “The present is not going to stay this way forever. The better we understand the past, the better we can predict the future.”

Audiences broke the concert hall stage barrier Saturday “crawling” to and from the museums of Austin’s Cultural Campus to listen to five different chamber concerts by Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music student musicians.

The Austin Cultural Campus is a collection of participating museums including the Blanton Museum of Art, Harry Ransom Center, Texas Memorial Museum, Visual Arts Center and Lyndon B. Johnson Library. Students played in the front of each museum to encourage audience members to try to visit all of them in a single day.

Evan Leslie, the school’s outreach coordinator, said the crawl highlights the rich variety of art, history and science exhibited on the UT campus.

“The crawl also acts as a learning experience for the students at the Butler School of Music,” Leslie said. “They are challenged to curate a music program that relates to the collections of a specific museum and to interact with their audiences more directly than in a traditional concert.”

Music performance senior Thales Smith, who performed in the Blanton Museum of Art, said holding the concerts in museums allowed audiences to feel more relaxed while listening than if the concert had been held in a traditional hall.

“In our first performance, we had two little girls dancing in the front, and in our last performance there were some older couples that asked a lot of question and joked around,” Smith said. “Making music in a large, beautiful space [like the Blanton atrium] just feels good.”

Leslie said classical musicians rarely have the opportunity to perform with their audience in close proximity.

“The crawl format allows us to reach a large cumulative audience, while also enjoying intimate interaction with museum guests in an aspiring setting,” Leslie said. “It allows cross-fertilization of audiences as well — people that love history might realize they also love classical music and vice versa.”

Music performance junior Meera Gudipati said the Texas Memorial Museum was especially appropriate for her performance.

“There was a skeleton hanging right above us, which I found very fitting as a flutist, since the first flutes were made out of bones,” Gudipati said. “The acoustics of the museum fit to the baroque era music we played, because it was often performed in spacious churches and cathedrals with similar acoustics.”

Each of the five concerts was tailored to the museum it was performed in. For example, students who performed in the LBJ Museum presented a concert of jazz pieces from the 1960s to honor Lyndon B. Johnson’s heroic legacy in campaigning for civil rights. 

In addition to the annual Concert Crawl, Butler School students perform a “Beat the Rush” concert every third Thursday at the Blanton, in which each part of the museum has a different type of performance.