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Museum of Natural History’s Mission Creek Gala Raises $310,000 for Science, Nature Programs

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History came to life in “A Night at the Museum” for the 15th Annual Mission Creek Gala held March 14. This year’s gala successfully raised nearly $310,000 to benefit science and nature education for schoolchildren.

“We are thrilled with the community support of the museum’s 15th Mission Creek Gala,” museum board chairwoman Elisabeth Fowler said. “We accomplished our goals of raising much-need funds, providing a fun and memorable night for guests, and showcasing the museum’s exhibits.”

Inspired by the 2006 adventure-comedy film Night at the Museum and the museum’s own real exhibits, history and essence, Gala Committee co-chairs Hanna Dreier and Emily Jones with event planner Tamara Jensen transformed the guests’ experience with a progressive cocktail hour and exploration through the museum’s Bird Hall, Mammal Hall, Insect Interactions Hall, Marine Hall and Chumash Hall.

Then the guests entered a transformed Fleischmann Auditorium, which had been designed to resemble the Museum Library, complete with fireplace, for a memorable dinner experience. The alcoves of the auditorium were also transformed into life-size dioramas which the tableau sponsors sat in: Monarch Butterflies diorama, Barn Owl diorama, Jellies Tank and the long-loved Rattlesnake Exhibit with the red button to make the snake’s tail rattle.

The annual event raises funds for science and nature education programs at the museum and Sea Center, which includes interactive tours for school groups, Nature Adventures Camps, family festivals and the museum’s award-winning teen four-year work study program, Quasars to Sea Stars.

In the Quasars to Sea Stars program, high school students work closely with educators and scientists to learn about the natural world, including entomology, zoology, astronomy, marine biology and anthropology. In addition, students in the program also learn important life skills such like leadership, project management, presenting, and public speaking.

A highlight of the gala’s evening was a speech by former Quasar to Sea Star Maria Amante, who is graduating this year from UCLA with two bachelor of science degrees, in ecology and evolutionary biology, and anthropology, and a minor in geology.

“Growing up here at the museum had an immense impact in my life,” Amante said in her speech.

She joined the Quasars to Sea Stars Program shortly after moving to Santa Barbara from the Philippines at age 14. Though Amante struggled as a teenager living off of her own wages from working as a Quasar, she shined during her time at the museum, leading her to win the Santa Barbara Youth Leader of the Year award, and later receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which has covered 100 percent of the costs of her education at UCLA, as well as any graduate school plans in the science, public health and education fields.

“I am so blessed to be a part of this incredible family, and I am so fortunate that these halls were open for me when I was in need,” she said.

“This museum is indeed a place of science and learning and fact, but it is also a place of discovery and exploration,” museum President/CEO Luke Swetland said. “We don’t know when the magic of this place will happen for them, when the spark will be ignited, when wonder will be kindled, curiosity piqued, or an extraordinary life changing journey will begin. But it happens, over and over again, day after day, here at the museum.”

Another Quasar, Estefania Contreras (a high school senior), also shined that evening as she co-hosted the live auction with emcee and immediate past chair Palmer Jackson Jr. Learning from and recognizing Mr. Santa Barbara Larry Crandell, the pair proceeded to auction unique experiences such as a Skyped classroom lesson with Jack Horner, one of America’s best-known paleontologists and scientific advisors; a behind-the scenes tour of your choice of Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C.; a catered dinner for ten or a fabulous cocktail party for 40 in the museum’s Butterfly Pavilion; a dinner party with Dr. Curtis Marean, lead researcher for Pinnacle Point Caves of South Africa; and a week-long vacation on Kauai’s sandy beaches.

The annual Mission Creek Gala sustains the museum's outstanding education program, which touches the lives of more than 20,000 school children each year through school tours, classes, storytelling, camps, the Nature Collection lending library, and outreach at the museum and its Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. The proceeds of the gala enable the museum to offer free admission to schools serving low-income neighborhoods and families.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History was founded in 1916 by noted ornithologist William Leon Dawson as the Museum of Comparative Oology. Soon after, the Board of Directors expanded the museum to include other aspects of natural history, and in 1923, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History opened its doors at the current campus. Since then the museum has become one of the most important institutions on the West Coast. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, and sustain and protect its scientific and educational relevance and maintain its position in the hearts and minds of the community well into the future, the museum is undertaking a Centennial Campaign.

Earlier this year, the museum’s Centennial Campaign received an early vote of confidence and has raised nearly $10 million. Swetland acknowledged the generosity of the museum’s board and resolved that the museum has solid footing moving forward with the museum’s renovation plan.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

— Valeria Velasco is a marketing associate for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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