Make the magic happen: How a gift to the Museum is a gift to everyone

One of the recent and more popular exhibitions at the HMNS was called Magic! The exhibition was unusual in that it not only included artifacts, but also showcased live performances by real magicians. Magic! ended more than two years ago in September 2010, but did the magic really end with the exhibition?

Let me explain what I mean.

First, the obvious: We’ve all heard the stats in the news. Science test scores in the United States lag behind those in other countries. And unfortunately, cuts in education budgets have had a damaging effect on our schools. In too many cases, schools simply don’t have the resources to provide what students need in order for them to master the necessary skills, especially in science and math.

That’s where the Museum comes in. HMNS is dedicated to bridging the gap between the need for a scientifically literate population and our schools’ sometimes inadequate resources. Science education is at the very heart of everything we do. Our programs for students and educators are heavy into STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. Just look through the education section of our website or flip through the Educator Guide to browse the almost 50 courses that are offered to students and adults.

HMNS Summer CampsBut the Museum offers more than science courses. HMNS offers experiences which make science magically come alive in a way that piques curiosity. Walk through the Morian Hall of Paleontology and you can see more than 400 specimens that stimulate the imagination, triggering visitors to speculate about what it was like to see these giant creatures roam the Earth (and in the case of our Giant Ground Sloth, greater Houston!) Stroll through the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals and you can marvel at the precious gem stones and hundreds of minerals, each one a unique specimen. Enter the Cockrell Butterfly Center and you’re transported to a tropical rainforest with thousands of fluttering butterflies, beautiful tropical plants and a waterfall, to boot.

HMNS’ magic is obvious, but here’s what you don’t see. Our Museum has more than 45,000 members who get free access to the Museum’s permanent exhibit halls. And in order to make the Museum accessible to everyone in our community, our permanent exhibit halls are free to the general public every Thursday afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. during the school year and 3 to 6 p.m. during the summer. The Museum website contains not only general Museum info, but also free grade-appropriate and TEKS-coordinated curriculum guides for educators and receives more than one million hits a year.

Group Photo!Working behind the scenes are just 159 full-time employees and 169 part-time staff. These are the folks who work to create and care for all of the collections, the permanent and traveling exhibitions, Giant Screen Theatre movies, adult education lectures, cultural feasts, youth education classes and outreach courses, scouting programs…and the list goes on and on (and on). In fact, the Museum provides almost 2 million services each year, and of that more than 595,000 are for students. Pretty impressive, right? Here’s the conundrum.

In the real world, if you go to the grocery store for milk, you pick up a carton of milk and pay for it. The price you pay covers what it costs for the store to provide you with that carton of milk. So, it stands to reason that if you go to the Museum to view an exhibition or attend a lecture or watch a movie, the price of everyone’s ticket purchases should cover the costs that the Museum incurs providing those services.

But the reality is that they don’t. This year, tickets sales will only account for about 40 percent of the Museum’s revenue. So how can the Museum continue to provide an astounding 2 million services annually?

It’s up to you to make the real magic happen.

If each person reading this post decided to support the Museum, their support and the support of others like them would help us continue to make science accessible and provide critical educational programming that makes a positive impact in our community and beyond.

And supporting the Museum is easy. You can:

(1) Become a member. Benefits include free access to all the permanent exhibit halls and discounts on everything the Museum has to offer — including all the shiny goodness at the Museum Store.

(2) Give the gift of membership. It’s a gift that keeps on giving and is way more fun for Uncle Bob and Aunt Lisa than another tie or a new bathrobe.

(3) Donate. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is a 501(c)(3) organization, and your contribution is tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. That means every penny supports the Museum and its programming. Learn more by clicking here.

So at this, the most wonderful time of the year, make a little holiday magic of your own by supporting the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Perhaps you’ve heard HMNS is celebrating its centennial this year?  Well, ok, we’ve been mentioning it a LOT!  After all, it’s a pretty big deal and it’s quite a bit of history to cover.  So throughout this year you’ll learn about all the major highlights of the museum’s past.  But sometimes, there might be quirky little bits that will sneak in, courtesy of me.

One of the many fun parts of my job as Associate Registrar is that I have easy access to the museum’s history files.  Usually I dig into them to research an object or specimen from the collection or occasionally a long-ago donor.  Nearly always, I come across some odd fact I didn’t know or realize about the museum or the city of Houston.  Since I grew up here, I find it all interesting.  But I’ve also been at HMNS such a long time that sometimes my personal memories prompt research into the files.

All of the HMNS staff is very aware of the museum’s centennial year so it’s not surprising that a lot of us have been doing a stroll down memory lane in regards to this place.  I don’t have any particular fondness or nostalgia towards miniature dollhouses, but for some reason I’ve been remembering an exhibit from my first year at HMNS.

 Pamphlet cover for
the dinner and auction

From what I’ve been able to dig up in the archives during the early to mid-1980s the HMNS Guild, along with the Houston Area Miniaturists Society, sponsored brief exhibits, lasting about three weeks in the Brown Hall, of miniature dollhouses and miniaturist scenes.  There was a small fee for the exhibit and the funds went to the Guild.  (A portion also went to the Miniaturist Society.) 

I know, you’re thinking HUH?  But these exhibits were quite popular and brought in thousands of visitors during their brief time on view.  The scenes ran the gamut from historical to fantasy; hospitals and farmhouses to Santa’s workshop. 

In 1984 one “room box” was a depiction of Prince William’s nursery.  So popular were these miniatures that the Guild had one in the live auction at the 1985 Wild Game Dinner. As it was described in the program:

“A Miniature Mansion: The two-story plus attic, electrically wired, Williamsburg Colonial dollhouse is guaranteed to enchant adult and child alike.  Each room is lovingly and individually furnished by creative Guild members.” The winning bid was $3200.00 and was written about as the first item in Betty Ewing’s society column in the Houston Chronicle.  (For you youngsters, 1985 was an economically tough time for Houston, so that winning bid was a pretty good sum for a dollhouse.)

 Dollhouse of Prince William’s nursery

My hazy memory of a dollhouse exhibit is from 1987 – I’m fairly certain it was the last one.  I can’t find anything beyond that year in the archives and I don’t remember another one.  Alas, I also can’t find any good photos – just a few black and white news clippings – although there is a mention of Channel 13 doing an on-air story.  So this was just one of those fleeting events that ran for a few years, a miniature moment in the museum’s century-long history.