More than 160 people braved the pouring rain Thursday morning to attend the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s 10th Annual State of the Museum Address held in the Fleischmann Auditorium.
In his third year of service, board chair Palmer Jackson Jr., who is a fourth-generation Santa Barbarian and whose grandmother also served on the museum board 40 years ago, spoke about the importance of the event.
“The State of the Museum is our opportunity to share with you details about the museum and some of our recent activities, specifically how we performed last year and what our plans are for the current year as we envision a new museum,” Jackson said. “I am pleased to announce that the museum has experienced countless successes this past year, all of which had not been possible without the generous support we received from our community, donations, memberships and visitors.”
A continental breakfast courtesy of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf began at 7:30 a.m. as guests mingled with elected officials and representatives, including Goleta City Councilman Ed Easton, Eric Freedman on behalf of First District county Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Assemblyman Das Williams senior field representative Hillary Blackerby.
The presentation followed promptly at 8 a.m., as former museum executive director Karl Hutterer shared highlights of the 2012 budget and overall museum attendance and membership.
Annual membership last year increased to near an all-time high of 5,689 members with attendance rising significantly in the past year, up 32 percent at the Ty Warner Sea Center and 23 percent at the Mission Canyon campus.
Hutterer also shared positive numbers on the $5.3 million end-of-year budget that was below budget in terms of expenses and above budget in terms of revenue.
These important figures were emphasized in light of the fact that money received from attendance and property rental fees contributes only to about one-third of the money needed to run the institution, with another third of the budget derived from private, individual and foundation support.
The organization raised $1.6 million in operating support, including $440,000 toward subsidized educational programs, $173,000 for exhibits, $253,000 to special events and $735,000 for general operating costs.
“There is not a dollar of government money in this institution,” Hutterer said. “This institution, from its first beginning in 1916, has been funded entirely on private, philanthropic support. It’s a child of the community entirely.”
The pursuit of the museum’s mission is founded on three guiding principles: inspiring awe for nature and thirst for discovery, promotion of sustainability, and connecting with the community.
Museum directors have acknowledged that many campus buildings have outlived life expectancy, and a master plan includes efforts to revitalize buildings and grounds at 2559 Puesta del Sol, developing 109,500 square feet of sustainable facilities.
In pursuit of this mission, on Nov. 21, 2012, the Board of Trustees announced the appointment of Luke Swetland as the new president and CEO. He will lead a team of nearly 100 staff and more than 1,000 volunteers to update the strategic plan as the museum nears its centennial anniversary in January 2016.
Swetland, who recently served as the interim head of the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles, where he was vice president since 2008, spoke to attendees about his excitement of undertaking this new venture.
“Karl and the board have given me an extraordinary welcome gift in that master plan. It is a road map to excellence, and yes, as we now begin the journey to implement it, we will make adjustments and changes and improvements to it,” Swetland said. “We will do that every step of the way in conversation with you — our neighbors, the Santa Barbara community, and the staff and elected leaders of the various jurisdictions within which we reside.”
Heather Moffat, director of education and exhibits, shared how the influence of nature allows for new programs to inspire discovery.
“We utilize our natural settings at the museum by creating science and educational programs that are steeped in nature both at the Sea Center and the museum,” she said.
During 2012, more than 19,500 students participated in school programs at the two sites for outdoor nature explorations. The museum provides free admission to schools that have a high percentage of students from low-income families, and each child receives a free family pass to return.
This year there will be a variety of new events for both children and families, including Owls and Woodpeckers of North America on Jan. 31 with photographer Paul Bannick. It will be followed by other inspirational programs, including An Illustrated Baroque Garden opening Feb. 8, Love in the Animal Kingdom on Feb. 12 featuring three short presentations by representatives from the UCSB departments of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology and Sociology, and this summer a highly interactive educational exhibit, Tinkertoy: Build Your Imagination.
Other keynote speakers at the annual event included Sea Center Director Amanda Allen, and director of collections and research, Henry Chaney, Ph.D.
Swetland summed up the spirit of the museum when he spoke of the local consequences and global imperatives of their mission: “We study nature, we display nature, we put kids and families back into nature, because we desire, above all else, to inspire everyone who comes to the museum and the Sea Center to better live within nature.”