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UT to Cut Funding for Texas Memorial Museum

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The Texas Memorial Museum has been a campus institution since it first opened its doors in 1939, drawing students and locals alike to see dinosaur bones, fossils, and exhibits on Texas wildlife—all for free—at Austin’s only natural history museum.

But now, on the eve of the museum’s 75th anniversary, it’s faced with serious financial challenges. As the Daily Texan reported this week, University budget cuts are set to reduce the museum’s funding by at least $400,000, two-thirds of its previous budget.

The cuts, which will take effect by September of next year, will also see the 11-person staff reduced to three: a gift shop employee, a security guard, and an additional employee to oversee the running of the museum.

Museum director Edward Theriot says that UT has helped fund the museum since the 1950s. He says that despite not fully anticipating the cuts, the museum has been working for a long time to lessen its dependence on University funding.

“It’s part of my job to imagine the worst, so in only that sense I anticipated these cuts,” Theriot says. “However, we have always tried to expand our funding and be entrepreneurial.”

Lee Clippard, director of communications at the College of Natural Sciences, says the cut was a difficult decision.

“I think what’s happening around the University is the funding situation is pretty level, there’s not a lot of new funding coming in, so decisions are being made to focus available funding on recruiting and maintaining the best faculty to provide the best education,” Clippard says.

The museum will now rely on a combination of state funding, gift shop sales, and donations. Theriot says while the museum has resisted the idea of charging admission in the past, that decision may merit another look now.

“We have rejected it in the past because if admission is charged attendance would surely drop quickly without new exhibits,” Theriot says. “It was more beneficial to our business to have the head count; it drove gift shop revenue and philanthropy. I can’t say whether this will remain the same in this new scenario.”

Theriot, however, remains hopeful that alternative funding can be found.

“We have a larger vision we still want to pursue and we have stakeholders with whom we are speaking,” Theriot says. “My staff, our friends, and I are still fighting to create an opportunity for us to continue the many good things we are doing.”

Photo courtesy Dave Wilson via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

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