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Amidst High-Profile Renovations, Natural History Museum Set to Downsize Some Educational Programs

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Tue, Jun 25, 2013 at 1:15 PM
click to enlarge Dinosaur encounters are going to be a lot less frequent this fall, as the Natural History Museum is set to cut one of its educational programs from four shows a week to two. - VOICE PLACES
  • Voice Places
  • Dinosaur encounters are going to be a lot less frequent this fall, as the Natural History Museum is set to cut one of its educational programs from four shows a week to two.

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*Our Coverage of the National History Museum's Centennial Celebration

The Natural History Museum's Dinosaur Encounters program isn't quite headed for extinction, like its namesake animal, but it is set to endure some sizable cuts.

Two employees of the museum who wished to remain anonymous for this story told L.A. Weekly that NHM is set to downsize Dinosaur Encounters this fall, with performances cut back to weekends only (from its current Thursday through Sunday schedule).

Additionally, museum-goers at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tarpits, one of the museums in the NHM family, will be charged for the Ice Age Encounters program on Sundays -- which is currently free with admission to the museum. The Wednesday Ice Age Encounters performances will be discontinued.

Staff members in the performing arts department were informed of the change earlier this year by Su Oh, the director of programs for NHM. Dates for the transition were in an email (provided by one of the museum sources) sent last week from one of the program coordinators, Ilana Turner, to the staff. The email mentions all cuts to the Encounters programs, as well as the introduction of a surcharge for Ice Age Encounters.

The manager of the department, Peter Wylie, is stepping down from his position this summer, he confirmed to L.A. Weekly.

According to the email, the Wednesday Ice Age Encounters program at the Page Museum will be discontinued starting August 12. The Dinosaur Encounters program will be scaled down to weekends only starting after Labor Day.

The programs appeal primarily to young audiences, as the members of the performing arts staff use dinosaur puppets to educate kids about dinosaur behaviors and anatomy, as well as explain the environment the prehistoric creatures lived in. Both anonymous sources emphasized the large number of school groups that enjoy the shows for free during school visits every week.

When reached yesterday, NHM Vice President of Education and Exhibits Karen Wise said that no official plans for fall had been made, and refuted the idea that any cuts had been finalized. When asked about the email, and whether Oh had spoken with staff members about programs being rescheduled for fall, however, Wise said she could not comment beyond stating that the number of performances for the Dinosaur Encounters program is "dynamic and season-bound."

Wise confirmed that the Ice Age Encounters Wednesday performances will be discontinued, though she emphasized that the number of performances for fall is still being decided.

Oh, reached earlier this month, said that there were no official plans for cutting or downsizing programs. Wylie, after confirming his departure, directed questions to Wise.

One of the museum sources said Oh had attributed the downsizing of the programs to overspending, in a meeting with performing arts staff members. Perhaps not coincidentally, the museum threw a lavish celebration earlier this month -- the same week that the first anonymous source came forward -- to celebrate its centennial, an occasion that has also brought numerous renovation plans, including the new, $13 million Otis Booth Pavilion and new nature gardens.

Both NHM and the Page Museum are controlled and funded by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in an even-split partnership with a private board of donors. The Board of Directors, which makes programming and policy decisions, is made up of a group of the very wealthy and very influential -- led by the president of the board, former Capital Group chairman Paul G. Haaga, Jr. (The full list of board members can be found on NHM's website.)

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