Museum of Science, History: Not Just for Children Anymore; the Southbank Museum Has Weathered Change Very Well

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Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

It's been a time of milestones at the Museum of Science and History.

The Jacksonville museum recently received a gift of $465,000 that will enable it to purchase a new digital camera for its signature exhibit, the planetarium in the Alexander Brest Science Theatre.

That new technology "is going to wow people," said Quinton White, a board member for 21 years.

June also marked the first anniversary of the hiring of Maria Hane as executive director. Ironically, she started almost exactly two years after the untimely death of Margo Dundon, who led the museum for 17 years.

Dundon's death "took a toll" on the museum, White said.

A year later, the stock market crashed.

But despite an extended search for a new leader, and a bad economy, the museum avoided losing money, said John B. Magevney, a vice president of Wells Fargo Private Bank who is in his fourth year on the museum board and his first term as its chairman.

"We were fortunate to not do any layoffs," he said. "We did some belt-tightening, scaled back programs, left some positions unfilled. ... The important thing is we had no debt."

Now, Magevney said, the gift from The Bryan Family Trustees of the Henry and Lucy Gooding Endowment, and from members of the Bryan family, signals that "things are really moving forward."

SOURCES OF INCOME

Chartered in 1941 as the Jacksonville Children's Museum, it moved to its current Southbank location in 1969. It has been renamed twice, becoming the Museum of Science and History in 1988, when the planetarium was last renovated and enlarged.

Operating on a $2.1 million budget this fiscal year - which ends Sept. 30 - the museum, which has 43 employees, 22 of them full time, gets about 60 percent of its income from memberships; admissions to the museum, the planetarium and the science shows; and store sales.

Last year, 149,000 people came through the doors, while museum outreach programs served another 20,000.

About 14.5 percent of this year's budget came from the city's Cultural Services Grant Program administered by the Cultural Council of Northeast Florida. It got $304,737 and has asked for the same amount for next year, Hane said.

The museum also gets income through contracts it has with the Duval County Public Schools and with other schools in the region.

And it has an endowment fund that stands at about $3.4 million. The museum can take up to 5 percent a year to support operations, but board policy is to take as little as possible, Hane said.

One area where Hane has made an impact since arriving last June is private fundraising. A strength under Dundon, fundraising from private individuals, corporations and foundations had fallen to almost nothing in the year before she arrived, Hane said. So far this year, MOSH has secured $68,000 in private gifts to support operations, as well as the $465,000 which will go to buying a new projector.

Hane said one of her primary goals at the museum is to continue to broaden the audience.

"We're trying to build the museum's appeal to adults and seniors," she said.

One step will be designating one Wednesday each month as a senior day, with a $6 admission charge (instead of the usual $9.50 for seniors).

When he joined the board in the late 1980s, "people used to regularly refer to it as the Children's Museum," although that name had been dropped a decade earlier, said White, the executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute at Jacksonville University.

"I think it's matured into a true museum for Jacksonville," White said. "... I'm happy with the direction of the museum and even happier with our choice of director."

Robert Arleigh White, executive director of the Cultural Council, said Hane and her board appear to have "a fresh take" on the museum's mission. …