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Natural History Museum Looks Back, Thinks Ahead

Master Plan and Leadership Change Focus of 10th Annual State of the Museum Address


At its 10th annual State of the Museum address Thursday morning, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Fleischmann Auditorium was filled with community members — many of them from Mission Canyon — who listened to representatives highlight the institution’s past triumphs and future changes.

Talked about were the museum’s Master Plan redevelopment project and its recent shift in leadership. Karl Hutterer, head of the museum for the last 12 years and the primary organizer behind the campus expansion project, is turning over his position and the continuation of the project to Luke Swetland, an experienced museum director coming from Los Angeles. It is the hope of the museum that the Mission Canyon and Santa Barbara communities will be supportive of the institution during this time of transition, Swetland said, and be patient and understanding as the final details of its Master Plan are hammered out and eventually implemented.

Last year brought about numerous accomplishments for the institution, as it exceeded attendance and budgetary expectations for 2012. At the Mission Canyon campus, attendance went up a significant 23 percent compared to 2011. And even as budgetary constraints come into play (particularly with regard to the proposed refurbishment plan), 2012 left museum revenues above budget and expenses below expectations. With the addition of new natural-science programs for children and adults alike, museum representatives continue to emphasize the need for significant improvements to the Mission Canyon campus’s infrastructure in order to allow for future growth of programs, collections, and research.

As Hutterer introduced Swetland as the new museum director, he emphasized the need to focus on revitalizing the “crumbling” setting in which the nearly 100-year-old museum is operating. As one of the city’s more complex and ambitious redevelopment projects, the Master Plan has so far encountered some environmental issues, as well as problems with protecting historic buildings and landmarks. In response to these concerns, the project’s ambitions have been cut back, with it surrendering nearly 10,000 square feet of potential exhibit space in order to maintain a number of historic buildings, as well as 20 nearby oak trees.

During the presentation, it was noted that the plan would be executed in three phases, beginning with the restoration of historic buildings on the site before moving on to demolition and reconstruction of new buildings. It is hoped that in the first few months of this year, more complete development plans will be drawn up and then presented at a number of community meetings for discussion.

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